title: our hearts ought to hurt
fandom: nothing much to do
characters: beatrice duke/benedick hobbes
information: canon-divergent | 2650 words | oneshot
summary: Ben and Bea and all the ways they never would have worked.
( you don't have to kill so kind )
They never would have worked.
Even during those 3 a.m. phone conversations and casual touching at group outings and that almost moment right before graduation, they were never going to become BenandBea.
The universe isn't kind like that.
They make it 5 months, 9 days, and 14 hours.
Ben would be lying if he said this wasn't his longest relationship (5 months, 9 days, and 14 hours), but he's not the one counting––Bea is.
Maybe Bea spends a few days locked up in her room eating nothing but peanut butter and popcorn; maybe Ben sits around the flat all weekend with a blanket over his head; and maybe the Love Gods weren't really gods after all, but mere mortals trying to mess with the balance of the universe (and the universe always corrects itself in the end)
The separation is amicable.
Benedick is not sure whether they were better as friends, maybe enemies, but not quite frenemies. He worries they complicated their dynamic with romance, dates and hand-holding and stolen kisses before stats class.
There are many lies they could tell themselves to explain why they broke up. It could have been the simple idea that they were incompatible, that the whole notion of opposites attract was rubbish and they were too alike to ever function as a couple, that they never learned how to communicate, or that the stars have written them off as perpetually single.
Beatrice was never that great with standardized testing, but she knows the answer is none of the above. Distance was their downfall. It was the fact that Beatrice was on the cusp of taking a gap year to travel, to experience the world for herself. It was also the fact that Ben was going off to university, to experience independence for himself. They are not meant to do long-distance.
No quantifiable number of Skype chats or text messages could have solved the problem of twelve-hour time zone differences or not being able to see each other until Christmas unless they counted their pennies on a university student budget. There was no place in the cosmos, no timeline where the situation could have worked and they are two impractically practical people to let it happen.
They end as Ben and Bea, as two lines diverging far past their origin point.
Ben grows out of the bird phase. It wasn't so much a phase as it was personal philosophy, but Ben will never apologize for the bird life.
University suits him. Responsibility irons out all the kinks in the trickster Benedick and gives him a new sense of agency.
Although his vlogging days are behind him, he finds a fairly well-paid job as a cameraman for filming lectures. He takes a few hours out of his schedule every week to stand behind a video recorder and occasionally zooms-in for close-ups of the professor or blackboard. It's a good thing he knows what a tripod is now.
Ben and Bea don't mean to lose touch, but they still fall out of their old patterns of communication and constant contact. They replace it with a strange silence taken up by new lives in new places. They keep tabs on each other through distance, a text message or long email here, a Skype call there if the time zone differences are kind.
When the lectures are especially boring, he finds himself aimlessly scrolling through his Instagram feed. Occasionally he will stumble onto a photo of Bea and Hero hugging in Auckland, Bea visiting the Colosseum with Meg, Bea laughing in a selfie in front of the Arc de Triomphe, Bea posing beside a tall, attractive guy, Bea riding a bike through the streets of Amsterdam—wait, rewind—Bea posing beside a tall, attractive guy.
Of course, she was going to meet some nice guy in Europe; she all but cautioned him about it the last time they spoke. New people, new places; he hears the mantra again like a broken record. He's okay with it, he thinks. He wants to be okay with it. Ben's happy for her, and that is what matters.
Beatrice thinks she will spend the rest of her days as a single pringle––if anyone so much as breathes the word spinster, fingers will be lost––although teenage Bea would say it was always meant to be this way, adult Bea would disagree. Adult Bea has also recently adopted a cat.
Benedick settles down with a nice girl he meets in his final year of university. She's good for him; she's much quieter than he is, but Ben doesn't mind. He can talk endlessly and someone is finally there to listen. No quippy comebacks, no fervent disagreements.
The happy couple sends Beatrice a wedding invitation, but Bea respectfully declines under the pretense of meeting some important investors in the States. She sends over an elaborate wedding gift of useless kitchen utensils adorned with bird motifs with a small note expressing her regrets.
Beatrice treats the the newlyweds to dinner shortly after they return from their honeymoon. (It's easier this way). The restaurant is the genius of some up-and-coming chef who specializes in fusion French cuisine and is indubitably the most glamorous place any of them have ever set foot in.
"Have you seen the bathrooms at this place?" Ben says excitedly. "I actually want to go wash my hands again."
Ben's wife smiles, a warm and natural smile that shows she got the joke but doesn't think it's funny.
"I thought the bathroom at the hotel for our reception was incredible, but this one is the king of all bathrooms. It deserves its own Michelin star," Ben proclaims.
It's easy for them to fall back into patterns of conversation the way old friends do. Neither of them are trying to outdo the other with a witty remark or sharp insult. They are two adults with
Bea shakes her head. "Just wait until you see the coat closet. It is potentially the best room in all of New Zealand."
"What do you think, should I buy another coat to take a journey into this magical coat closet?" Ben volleys back.
Bea cracks up. "Ben, it's not Narnia."
"Oh, our appetizers are coming." Ben's wife looks up from the napkin she had been fiddling with.
They think they're happy as Ben and Bea, as old friends who once were.
Sometimes when it's late at night and sleep eludes her, Bea counts her regrets.
Bea doesn't think of herself as someone who regrets often. She regrets as frequently as she is wrong (and Bea is never wrong, yet she was always wrong about Benedick).
Somewhere in between moving to Auckland and Hero's health scare and graduation, Benedick became Beatrice's best friend. Hero is her best friend for life, and those days she could barely stand to look at Pedro, but Benedick inserted himself into her life and didn't look back.
When Hero's hospital room slowly filled up with gifts and the occasional visiting friend, it was Benedick who brought the slightly wilted flowers from the gift shop and sparkly generic get-well cards and teddy bears wearing fluorescent colored sweaters. He filled himself when she didn't ask to him, and she is not sure if she ever properly thanked him for it.
She wishes she could call him late at night like she used to. Sometimes Ben would watch multiple episodes of Doctor Who and call her immediately afterwards to digest and theorize and talk. Other times Bea would text Ben at an ungodly hour when she couldn't fall asleep and he would reply back with a sleepy, typo-ridden message and she would give up after the fourth text and call him anyway. They would talk for fifteen minutes and then hang up or they would talk until the sun came up and make plans for breakfast the next morning or they would talk until the two most talkative people in Auckland drifted off to sleep.
Bea was never good at the honesty game, but she misses him. So much.
If she can admit that to herself, maybe she could admit that to him, and maybe they could get back to where they once were. Before graduating from Messina, Beatrice could almost picture it all.
They almost could have managed a long-distance relationship and missing each other would only make the reunions more special. They could have made it to graduation and all the time after that.
They didn't, and that's what makes her curl up next to her phone at 3 a.m. and wonder whether she should give him a call. Whether she should check in and see how he's doing, how university has been. Whether they made a big mistake and deserve better for themselves. Whether she should sleep on these thoughts instead and wake up the next morning without acting on any of them.
His hair is gelled back and he's wearing a dress shirt that is a size too big.
"Here we are," Benedick says.
Beatrice nods. She takes in the lights and lace, the champagne flutes and soft jazz band in the background.
"It's quite a sight, isn't it," Bea says in admiration. "The wedding planner really outdid herself."
Ben makes a noise in agreement. "Truly the best New Zealand has to offer."
"Oh stop it." Hero flushes. "It wasn't all me. Meg approved all the decorations, Balth took care of the music, and John got a discount from the caterers."
"Nothing like a good vow renewal ceremony for the aunts to bring the old gang back together," Pedro says.
Balthazar smiles. John laughs dryly.
"Really, thank you all for coming. My mums, the whole family appreciates it. We all thought they were crazy when they decided to renew their vows, but it's all turned out quite wonderfully, hasn't it?" Hero beams.
By some doing of the magical seating chart, Ben and Bea are seated side by side in their large table of eight. This is the closest proximity they have been to each other in years.
They have had moments where they have been as physically close as two people can be, and moments where they have run as far as the continents would take them. Now this is the moment where they are sitting shoulder to shoulder, an arm's distance between them.
The table dissolves into conversation of old friends catching up and sharing stories from the new lives they lead. There are snippets of Meg's editorship at an award-winning magazine, the furnishings Pedro has bought for his new shared flat with Balthazar, and Ursula's groundbreaking efforts to revitalize filmmaking in New Zealand.
"How have you been?" Ben asks awkwardly. There is nothing he could do to make it less awkward.
"Well," Bea replies simply. "I'm beginning to appreciate the American accent."
Beatrice never took a liking to the big business, corporate life, but working alongside her mum for the past year has given her more perspective. The States are nice, a little loud and vociferous even for her at times, but overall a welcome breath of fresh air.
"You have always maintained the superiority of the Kiwi accent," Ben responds.
"Right," Bea affirms. "And you?"
"London's nice." Benedick nods. "Far, but not as far as you."
Benedick has spent the past six months working at a media development company in London. Mostly, he appreciates the abundance of good tea and being surrounded by extended family. He has been flatting with one of his cousins and has considered moving to England permanently.
"Who knew everyone would end up all over the world." Bea comments. It's remarkably how far, professionally and geographically, their group at Messina High has gone in the years since graduation. As if just yesterday, they were still teenagers sitting on the quad lawn with half-finished plans and a blank atlas in their hands.
"I think you had a hand in that," Ben says, then nothing else.
Beatrice tucks a loose strand behind her ear and absent-mindedly fiddles with the chipped nail polish on her fingers. Ben taps his foot against the marble ballroom floor and drums his fingers on the circular wooden table to no apparent rhythm. A wine glass is clinked and their attention is diverted.
They're unadjusted as Ben and Bea, as two adjacent names on a seating chart. When the ceremony is over, they still have an ocean's distance between them.
The summer is winding down and the grassy quad of Messina High seems too small and microscopic for the plans they have ahead. Ursula has organized one last picnic for everyone before the future begins to set into place.
Balthazar is playing a soft song on the ukulele as everyone rests on the plaid-printed picnic blanket. They close their eyes and imagine time stopping before year 13, before university, or before
Ben and Bea settle near an old bench away from their friends on the lawn. They circle a conversation they have been meaning to have, but have been too successful in evading.
Ben breaks the silence. "I'm leaving for university next week."
"Oh." Bea replies. "That's so soon."
Ben nods. "What about you? When does the great European adventure begin?"
She's not sure when she's leaving. She was going to backpack across Europe starting in the fall and had all the itineraries outlined and maps printed. The closer she gets to fall, the more unsure she becomes of her plans. There are more unexpected loose-ends to tie up, more details to iron out.
Truthfully, Bea isn't sure if she is ready to uproot just yet.
"Soon, I think," she offers.
Beatrice sits down on the faded green school bench and taps her fingers against the old wood. Bea thinks of something to say to fill up the space between them. She can feel it compressing, getting closer to the black hole. "Have you given any thought to your courses? Are you still considering communications?"
"Civil engineering, actually," he pipes up.
Bea stops drumming her fingers. "Civil engineering," she repeats, half-incredulous and half-impressed. She never would have guessed.
"Yes." Ben's expression doesn't change.
Her mouth falls slack a little. "But you hate physics," she sputters. "Don't you need to know about gravity and stuff to properly build a bridge that won't kill everything in sight?"
Ben shifts uncomfortably. "I'm also thinking Classics or Linguistics. Undecided."
Beatrice doesn't know how he wants her to respond. She wants to wish him good luck on deciding his future major, but that feels flippant and haughty even for her. He is on track for something, and if she looks at herself, the same does not apply. She has no idea where she is going or where she will be one month from now.
Instead, Bea opts to say, "You'll figure it out." She smiles reassuringly at him. "You're Benedick."
"Thanks." Ben replies earnestly.
Beatrice bites her lip and leans back against the bench. She sighs audibly. Benedick raises his eyebrows. He looks sad, almost tired, as if weary from the thoughts in his head. Even if nothing else works, two things are certain: (1) they have always understood each other, and (2) timing was never their forte.
They are always looking for other things to say, other things to do—always circling.
"So this is it?" Beatrice asks.
Benedick sits down next to her on the wooden bench. He turns to look at her.
"I suppose so."
Other times, the universe does itself a kindness and catches itself.
They never could have worked if they didn't try. There is only so much distance that can be put between BenandBea, so even if they are making a terrible mistake, at least they're making a terrible mistake together. Bigger, greater mistakes await on the other fork of the road, and fate isn't clever enough to work its way around those.
"I'm coming with you," Ben declares resolutely.
"Okay," Bea says breathlessly. "Yes, okay."
(+ author's note)
This is from back when NMTD ended (circa nov 2014). I've started and stopped so many fics since then, so I'm glad to have finally finished this one. This was originally supposed to be separate break-up universes, but everything started to blend together so make of it what you will.
(also can we talk about how annoying it is to create line breaks on this)