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so desperate

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The journey back from Alcyon was long, and tense, and tiring, but Ben can already see the University’s old towers peeking through the trees, can almost hear the bustle of crowded streets. They're finally back home. As they approach the translucent star-wall he also notices a familiar figure in the distance, waiting, as if they somehow knew beforehand when they were going to arrive

Blue. Of course they’re here.

They’re leaning against a tree, hands working on giving form to a dark piece of wood, careful, focused. The motion helps them think , Ben remembers Blue saying. The carving knife looks tiny in their hands.

Ben stops for a moment when he sees them, and his parents send him a curious look. He feels exhausted, both physically and emotionally, but as Blue looks up from their work and their eyes meet, he feels himself speed up, until he's almost running. He sees Blue smile and drop what they’re holding just as he slams into them, wrapping his arms around their neck and burying his head in their shoulder. They immediately hug him back, tightly squeezing him to their chest, and after weeks Ben finally feels like he can breathe again.

“I missed you so much,” he says, voice quiet, muffled by Blue’s shoulder. Just for the two of them to hear.

“God, me too” Blue pulls back and gently threads their fingers together, sending him a warm smile, “I wish I could say it's been boring without you, but- it's never completely boring over here.”

“Yeah. I’m…. yeah.” Ben feels his stomach twist, nervous, but Blue squeezes his hand before he can let himself think too much about it.

“I'm glad you're home,” Blue says, tugging at his hand “Come on. Wanna take a walk with me? There's a lot I wanna catch you up on.”

They let the others walk ahead of them. Rosana sends him a look as she walks by, worry and exhaustion still deep in her face, but she greets Blue with a small smile and a nod of the head, and doesn’t say anything. Instead she grabs her husband by the arm and guides him towards the University with the rest of the group.

They walk for a while, aimlessly, and Blue fills the silence with trivial chatter- they tell him about a new plant they found deep in the forest, what their siblings have been up to since he left, a cool trick they learned from Red Jack. They’re clearly giving him time to think about what he'd like to share about Alcyon, if he’d like to do it at all.

Blue doesn't let go of his hand, and Ben certainly appreciates it.

Eventually they slow to a stop, right by an old moss covered tree just at the edge of the forest, not too far away from the main hall. Ben can still hear the distant sounds of people chatting, working, laughing.

Blue squeezes his hand and turns to face him.

“What happened? On Alcyon?” they ask, worry clear in their voice, “You don't have to tell me right now but Hella- I knew she was hiding something from me and she didn't want to say anything but I insisted and she mentioned- Are you okay?”

Ben looks down at their joined hands “I- I don't know. I think I'm fine, but… “ he stops, squeezes his eyes shut, “Fuck.”

Blue gently touches the side of his face, tilts it until he's looking at them “Hey, you don't have to tell me anything. As long as you're okay”

They look so concerned . Ben swallows around the lump on his throat “No, it's- I want to tell you. Just give me- give me a second.”

“Of course”

He breathes, in and out, and he tells them everything.

They both sit down under a tree, shoulders touching, and Ben tells them everything that happened since he left the Last University. He doesn't meet their eye as he speaks, playing with their hands instead, but he can feel Blue’s anger at his words, the tension in their shoulders as he retells Arrell’s plans, the fight in the library, his last breathing moments.

“I should've come with you.”

Ben shakes his head, “No, I'm glad you didn’t. I- I couldn’t have -“, the knot in his stomach twists at the idea, at the memory of burnt flesh, the sound of his mother yelling his name, the pain- “It would’ve hurt you. I'm glad you weren't there.” His voice cracks at the last words, and he tries put everything he's feeling under control. Just breathe.

Blue doesn't answer, but Ben can tell they're not convinced. They wrap an arm around his shoulders and let him lean against their side as he tries to control his breathing. In and out. The ground is soft beneath him, and Blue’s body is warm against his, and Ben realizes that this is the most comfortable he's felt since leaving the Last University weeks ago.

“Ugh, this sucks. I'm sorry.” Ben sighs, pressing his free hand to his eyes

“Man, you literally died. Nothing to be sorry about. I'm glad you told me.” They lift their joined hands to their lips and softly press a kiss to his knuckles. Ben doesn't blush like he used to, but his heart still does a little jump inside his chest.

“You're a sap,” he says instead, shifting in place to press a kiss to Blue’s cheek, “ But thank you. Really.”

Blue hums in response, warm smile on their face “Hmm, no problem at all.”

“Anyways, how did you even know we were getting back today?”

“Well I'm the Ranger . I have my ways, of course.” They puff out their chest with fake pride and stand up, offering a hand to him “Come on, let's go see Emmanuel. I bought some sweet cakes for us in advance and they're probably just getting out of the oven.”

Ben chuckles and accepts Blue’s hand, starting to feel a little warmer already.