It was just another average day writing with the team for Larry. They were still in the first stage of roughly hashing out the second series before splitting off into pairs or alone to write the episodes fully, and though the buzz of having been recommissioned was still palpable in the room and the conversation from everyone was passionate and rapid-fire, Larry couldn’t shake his usual distraction. Ben. Larry couldn’t decide if it was harder when Ben sat across the table from him, with his stupid perfect silver hair and stupid handsome face (made unacceptably more attractive with glasses) always peering over a laptop at him, or when Ben chose to sit next to Larry and all Larry could focus on was every time their feet or legs or arms would accidentally touch. It was getting worse and worse every day. Larry couldn’t pinpoint exactly when this infatuation with his best mate had started, truthfully it had been bubbling under the surface for the best part of a decade, but over the past few months it had spilled over and it was now as though the image of Ben was tattooed to his eyelids, he was in his every waking thought.
Larry had managed to keep it together and stay focused as much as possible throughout the day, but relished the chance to run out the door and down the street towards the tube as soon as Jim pointed out what time it was. Larry had deliberately stuck his headphones on before even standing up to put on his jacket so none of them could corner him for a ‘real life’ conversation before he made his exit - he’d sensed Martha looking at him a bit more closely, a touch more concerned than normal this week and knew she would be on the verge of putting a hand on his arm and pulling him to one side to ask if “everything is okay”.
Everything was okay, really , Larry thought to himself as he crossed the street and started to fumble in his laptop bag for his wallet. The obsession with Ben would pass, he knew it would - it’s not like it was ever going to go anywhere if Ben somehow ever found out about it anyway, and he certainly wasn’t going to make his feelings known to Ben - or anyone. He just had to keep his head down and be normal and he would get over it. He had to. Larry put his hand on his wallet fairly quickly, which was strange because it normally got squashed right down at the bottom beneath -
Which wasn’t in the bag.
It was Friday, too, so he couldn’t just leave it in the room or hope that one of the others would pick it up for him and pass it back tomorrow. Larry begrudgingly spun on the spot and started to march back down the road in the direction of number nine. At least they’d all be gone now, and he hummed along to the music playing in his ears as he let himself back in the front door, through the hallway and down to their room with the big wooden table where he hoped his laptop would still be sitting. Larry’s laptop was indeed still sat at the end of the table where he’d left it, but his attention was pulled away by the two men who looked very much like Ben and Mat having sex over the other end of said table, with their backs to him.
Larry froze on the spot, still holding the door handle, utterly stunned by what he was seeing. It was definitely Ben and Mat, still fully clothed apart from jeans and underwear pulled down around their thighs. Mat was bent over the edge of the table, his long arms stretched out in front of him, hands splayed, fingers clawing aimlessly on the varnished wood. Ben stood behind with his left hand gripping Mat’s hip and his right snaked under the table, his elbow drawing back and forth in time with his hips as he slammed into Mat again and again. Desperate to not be caught himself having caught them, Larry swiftly backed out of the room and closed the door shut again as quietly as he could.
He was almost out of the building for the second time that evening when he remembered why he was back there in the first place - the laptop. He really needed to take it away with him for the weekend and found himself laughing out loud at the thought of just walking in and casually scooping it up and giving Mat and Ben a cheery wave as they continued fucking. Jesus Christ . Mat and Ben. Fucking. Barely fifty feet away from where Larry was paused in the corridor. He dared not turn his music off or he’d most likely be able to hear them, even. He quickly ran through the options in his head then decided to sit and wait on the sofa in the corridor by the door for them to, well, finish, and hopefully leave. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and cycled through various apps but they may as well have all been set to Chinese for all the information he was taking in from them. He couldn’t shake the image of his two friends, the table, Mat, Ben. Ben .
Larry looked up from his phone for a moment and was surprised to see two long shadows cast on the wall, the door to their room clearly open now. That seemed… quick, somehow? He paused his music and could hear Ben and Mat murmuring as they walked closer to him. Okay, Laurence, he said to himself. Just act normal. Act cool. Act like you haven’t just accidentally walked in on two of your best mates shagging. Larry unfortunately, however, hadn’t given much thought to how it looked that he was sitting outside politely waiting to go into the room, until just now, when he realised it looked very much like he knew that they’d been inside and didn’t want to interrupt. Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck. Oh god. Just act cool. They probably won’t even pick up on it.
Ben very clearly and immediately picked up on it. He stopped mid-step when he and Mat came into Larry’s view and some kind of negative emotion (Fear? Guilt? Larry wondered) flashed across his face before he very noticeably went into actor mode and plastered on what Larry supposed was meant to be a natural smile. Mat looked completely at ease, hands in his hoodie pocket as he looked to Ben to work out why they’d stopped then caught sight of Larry too. Mat’s eyes widened briefly - almost imperceptibly - before he was full of the same affable (and clearly affected) nature that Ben had recently adopted. The three men smiled frantically, each waiting for the other to speak first and show his hand as to how much they knew or were prepared to give away.
Ben broke first. “Your laptop. I just spotted it. I was going to, um, bring it to you over the weekend”. Ben handed over the offending article.
“Oh. Thanks. Wait, you were going to come all the way to...”
Mat cut Larry off - “Why you sat out here, mate?”
Both Larry and Ben ogled him with a shared expression that better matched him having said “do you want to both come back through and fist me for a laugh?”
Larry knew he had to answer. He’d been asked a direct question, after all. And he knew Mat was just trying to feel him out but he was in an unenviable position. Somehow this now felt like his problem and he was in the wrong. How the fuck had that happened? The less he could say the better. But he was twisted up with negative emotion. A gnawing, angry, miserable feeling that he - with some reflection - would later recognise as jealousy.
“I thought I’d better let you finish. Though I did think I’d be waiting longer than that to be honest”. So much for keeping it short. Fuck it. Larry packed his laptop away with a slightly manic smile on his face, rose from his chair and with a waveringly ebullient “see you on Monday!” dashed out of the office for a second time that day.
Larry struggled not to break into a sprint on his way back to the tube, he wanted to put as much physical distance between himself and whatever the fuck had just happened as possible. He power walked in a sort of daze, almost colliding with various other pedestrians and commuters until finally he was through the barriers, down the escalator and onto the tube towards Victoria to get the train home.
He tried to force himself to think of literally anything else at all in the entire world, but every possible topic of thought was drowned out by Ben and Mat in the room. Memory bled into conjecture as Larry envisioned his two mates leaping up from the table and rushing toward each other to kiss passionately, desperately, the moment he had left the room - alone together at last. He fantasised of Ben, his best and closest friend in the whole world, stricken with guilt at the idea of keeping this love affair with Mat secret from him. What was Ben thinking right now, Larry wondered. What was this all going to mean?
When Larry’s thoughts finally ceased for a moment, he realised he had auto-piloted himself out of the underground and into a window seat on a busy train back south. He rested his head against the glass, hoping the dull rattle would shake the images out of his mind’s eye.
I’m sitting next to Ben at the table, typing on my laptop as Jim is dictating. I’m trying to focus but Ben’s hand has crept into my lap and he’s rubbing his palm slowly against my jeans and smirking as he leans over and pretends to read what’s on the screen. Mat looks up from his notebook, he can tell what’s going on-
We’re in the pub round the corner from number 9. Ben stops me in the corridor as I’m coming out of the toilet and pushes me up against the wall and starts kissing my neck. I try to protest and push him away but he kisses me on the mouth, hard, and pins my hands to my sides. Mat walks around the corner and drops his pint when he sees us.
Shit, no. Hang on.
Okay - we’ve all been round at Ben’s and I’m the last one left. He says bye to Martha and closes the door behind him, then he pounces on me on the sofa and we start tearing each others’ clothes off. He’s on top of me and breathing heavily as he shoves his hand into my underwear. I look up and Mat is standing above us looking horrified, he’s forgotten his phone and let himself back in with his spare key.
For fuck’s sake!
Right, right, okay. It’s just the two of us. We’re writing Bill , sat next to each other in the office in Croydon. Ben reaches over to show me something on his laptop and our hands accidentally brush each other. We look into each other’s eyes, and he pulls me in and we kiss. He pushes me off my chair and onto my knees, then pulls me into the space between his legs and starts to undo his fly. I take his cock into my mouth and he moans and runs his fingers through my hair and I can feel myself getting hard too. I pause for breath and look up and it’s Mat looking down at me, confused.
Okay, this is clearly hopeless.
Larry was lying in his bed at home on Monday morning. He’d woken up much too early as the sun crept into the room from a crack in the curtains, it was set to be another hot Spring day in the south and already the air felt heavy. It hadn’t long gone six AM and Larry desperately wanted to get some more sleep before heading into London and so was resorting to the tried and tested technique of knocking himself unconscious through masturbation. Thinking of Ben whilst having a wank was certainly nothing new but since Friday his fantasies were being ruined by Mat always turning up as an extra or sometimes in a starring role.
Larry realised after a moment that, here in bed in the present day, he was still touching himself as his mind inevitably drifted back to what he’d walked in on, and his cock twitched and hardened as he began to speed up. He wondered, probably long past the twentieth time never mind it not being the first, what he would have seen had he not backed out of the door so quickly. He envisioned himself sliding into the room silently and leaning back against the closed door and taking his cock into his hand as it was right now, desperate to be caught by one or both of them as their fucking became more frantic and Mat started to cry out Ben’s name.
In the fantasy, Ben looked back and spotted Larry watching them and kept his eyes locked on him as he pounded in and out of Mat and brought the younger man to orgasm. Fantasy-Mat moaned loudly and his legs buckled as he came into Ben’s right hand, curled under his hips at the edge of the table as Ben continued to fuck him, harder and harder whilst never breaking eye contact with Larry. Real life Larry felt conflicted and ashamed about fantasising about this at all but found he was unable to stop himself either and came for real, suddenly and violently as the fantasy version of Ben sneered at him across the writing room and said simply “are you going to come, or what?”
He lay with his eyes closed as his breathing returned to normal desperately urging sleep to overpower him - sticky sheets be damned - but it was a futile gesture. If anything, he was more awake than before, mind thrumming with a never ending sea of scenarios polluted by Mat’s face.
He sighed aloud, stripped the bed and switched on the coffee machine. Today was going to be long.
He had dreaded this first meeting back all weekend. The slender moments of thought that weren’t hijacked by Mat were instead filled with the imaginary conversations and confrontations he’d been engineering between himself and Ben - when he was in the shower, on the train, attempting to write, basically every hour that had passed since Friday evening.
The journey to number 9 passed in a sleep-deprived blur. An auto-pilot commute that got him right to the door before the magnitude of the situation behind it slapped him in the face. And it was just like Ben to turn up late and draw it out just that extra bit longer. Larry’s heart was racing and his palms were sweating as he fiddled with his laptop charging cable and rearranged the papers on the table next to him for the hundredth time. He kept glancing to the end of the table where Martha was sat now, wondering what she would do or say if only she knew what Mat and Ben had been doing less than 72 hours ago in the space she was now occupying. Larry realised Martha was looking back at him with a very concerned expression, so he flashed a quick smile at her and tried to look to the other end of the table casually.
Fucking Mat. The shameless prick! It was just Larry’s luck that Mat was the first to follow him into the room after he’d turned up alone and far too early, and Mat had done a thoroughly excellent job of pretending that literally nothing was wrong - that nothing had happened at all, even. Mat was so relaxed and casual, making small talk and unpacking his things that Larry actually started to question whether the events of Friday evening had happened at all - until Mat gave himself away when he went to sit at
end of the table, froze, and very deliberately chose the opposite seat. But he’d smirked at Larry when he did it. Bastard. Luckily Martha and Jim had turned up together a few minutes later, and Simon had messaged them all over the weekend to say he wouldn’t be back in until Wednesday, so they were just waiting on Ben now.
“So, are we getting started, or…?” Martha piped up over Mat and Jim’s conversation about the football, and Larry clicking through various documents on his laptop.
“Are we not waiting for Ben?” Larry asked, his voice unnaturally high. He kept his gaze locked on the computer screen as his ears started to burn.
“Ben’s not coming today, did he not text you?” asked Jim, his face conveying exactly how unusual this seemed to all of them. Larry quickly made up a bullshit story about his phone not working properly, to which Jim shrugged but Martha’s eyebrow stayed raised.
“He’s not well” said Mat simply, then rubbed his palms together before leaving his fingers to hover over the keyboard on his laptop with overly dramatic anticipation. “Shall we?”
Larry sensed Mat’s desire to steer the conversation away from Ben and was glad of it, was glad to be at work even if it meant having to be in the same room as Mat with the air still very much not clear between the two of them, was glad to be doing anything other than sitting at home trying and failing to keep his thoughts away from Ben.
He fought valiantly all morning to at the very least
to be part of the conversation and tried to contribute whenever possible but being sat in the very room it had happened in with one of the people concerned proved to be quite the distraction. It also didn't help matters that every time someone said ‘Ben’
or even ‘the Captain’
his heart raced and his body thrummed with adrenaline. He made his decision at dinner time and fought through the rest of the day (with Martha’s attentive and clearly worried eye lingering on him) until he could escape at speed - this time with all of his belongings - out of the building.
Should he message Ben to let him know he was on his way to his house? Larry had to confront him, to talk this out of his system, but he was now having second thoughts about turning up unannounced when Ben was probably lying ill in bed. But Larry didn’t want to give Ben the opportunity to stall him either. He decided to show up and text Ben when he was outside, and hopefully Ben would agree that they could talk about this like adults. Larry mulled over the planned conversation a good dozen times and it propelled him through the underground, across the overground, and suddenly he was at the corner of Ben’s street. No going back now , he sternly told himself, resisting the urge to turn about-face and leg it all the way home.
Larry very slowly walked up the steps to Ben’s front door and stood staring at it, giving the script a final once over before he would message Ben to say he was outside, when he saw what looked very much like someone of Ben’s height and hair colour moving behind the textured glass. Larry panicked and was about to turn and head back down the steps when the door flew open and revealed Ben, the image of health and vitality in a pair of black jeans and a light blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up above his elbows. Not exactly the outfit of someone who’d been lying in bed ill all day.
“Larry, what are you doing here?” Ben asked quietly.
“Oh you know just came to see how you are, mate .” retorted Larry, his words dripping with so much ridiculous sarcasm he could practically hear it spattering onto the stone steps. He gestured wildly at Ben in an up-down motion - “You look absolutely terrible, been up all night vomiting, have you?”
“I-” Ben tried to reply, but Larry had gotten past what was normally the hardest hurdle for him, actually opening his mouth and beginning to talk, so he cut him off immediately.
“Are you avoiding me? Mat came in today.”
“I know he did. Larry, I-”
“What the actual FUCK is going on, Ben?”
“Larry!” Ben shouted. He paused, then swallowed, then raised an open palm. “I’m happy to have this conversation with you but not at my front door, will you please at least come inside?” he all but begged, very quietly.
Larry immediately looked around the street to see if anyone was in danger of overhearing them. It was completely empty, but he conceded the point. His hands were starting to shake and he didn’t think he was going to retain even this level of composure when he heard the answers to all the questions he’d been rehearsing. Larry nodded curtly, then marched past Ben into the hallway and stood awkwardly at the bottom of the stairs waiting for Ben to follow him back through.
"Would you like a cup of tea?”
The question hung preposterously in the air. Larry’s brain raced with vitriol ready to spit back something angry, cutting. Then he realised, actually, yes. He would actually like a cup of tea. Tea is always welcome. They offer you tea when someone’s died so it’s never inappropriate. After all, this isn’t tea’s fault.
“Yes please” came the child’s voice in response. Rather than be trapped in the hall, Larry followed Ben into the kitchen. Ben immediately busied himself with the task, an excellent excuse to remain silent, while Larry wordlessly cursed his own hands for their stark emptiness. He tried to take a casual stance leaning against the wall furthest away from the kettle, but indignation had rendered him near rigid and instead of relaxed he looked like an oddly-positioned ironing board. He opened and closed his mouth as if to speak while hurriedly arranging and rearranging the questions that had plagued his brain for days. Ben, who had carefully preoccupied himself without so much as making eye contact eventually turned round to survey his friend, a mug of tea in each hand.
“Um, are you okay? You don’t look…”
“Of course I’m not okay! My brain feels like it’s exploding and… and… you, you fucking…” Considering the amount of hours of rehearsal Larry had put in for this performance, opening night was turning into a spectacular shit show. He took a deep breath trying to centre himself and remember his lines. But Ben - nobly or otherwise - thought it best to step in and save him. He placed the mugs down on the counter behind him and took a tentative step forward.
“I get it. It must’ve been… well, it’s not the ideal thing to walk in on. Or most comprehensible. And I understand you’re probably upset because you feel like it’s something I’ve kept from you - which, I have I suppose - but not in an unkind way. Well, not intentionally. Oh, God.”
Ben it seemed had said all this in one breath and was now pink and grabbing the worktop edge to steady himself.
“Don’t you dare assume why I’m upset! You’ve constructed your own narrative here! You have no idea…” Larry was too overwhelmed by the myriad things Ben had no idea about and knew if he began down that road, he would inevitably end up revealing rather too much.
“No! I don’t, mate - and I’m not trying to assume I was just… trying to fill in the blanks. Look, I know you well enough to know you wouldn’t have come here without a plan. So be it a speech or a list of questions, out with it. Please.” Ben added gently.
Larry felt like he should be furious but was still warmed by how well Ben knew him. Then saddened, because this person who knew him so well had kept a huge piece of his life from him. He was exhausted.
“Questions”. Larry said in a small voice.
Ben gave a small nod of encouragement.
“Okay. Well, what did I walk in on?”
“Oh. Um. I mean, I really didn't expect to have to explain the machinations…”
“No.” Larry rolled his eyes. “What. What’s going on with you and-” he pulled out of spitting out the word ‘him’ quickly enough to say “Mat” with as little contempt as he was capable of managing. “How long?”
“Ahh. Well…” Ben puffed up his cheeks in thought, brow furrowed clearly trying to give an accurate response. He absent-mindedly fiddled with the cuff of his shirt sleeves around his elbows as an excuse to avoid looking Larry in the eye. “About eight years? Something like that. Not solidly but now and then. Just a sort of, um, casual arrangement”.
Larry gave a snort of indignation. “Yeah, eight years sounds really casual mate.” A grimace of realisation took hold of Larry’s features. “Hang on, you’ve kept this from me for eight fucking years?! That’s practically our whole friendship! Jesus! What else should I know?! Do you have a secret family? Are you on the run? Can you really juggle?”
“You’ve seen me juggle.”
“I’m being facetious, you tit.”
“Look, obviously given that we worked - work - together, we didn’t mention it. And then it would’ve been weird to suddenly mention it after so many years. It’s not like we’re secretly married and have an adopted cat. Or child. Everyone would have been odd about it and made it a thing - which it isn’t - so we just never bothered.”
“But I’m your best friend,” Larry spoke quietly, almost to himself.
“Even you must have things - private, personal things - that you haven’t told me?”
Larry’s face went very hot. Yes. Obviously there was one Very Big Secret he’d never told Ben. Because of course, he simply could not.
“See! There is something!” Ben waved his hand in frantic circular motion to gesture at Larry’s face, from which the blood was very quickly draining.
“THIS ISN’T ABOUT ME!”
“Sorry. No.” Ben let Larry calm his breathing before adding “Are there more questions?”
“So he’s, what? A casual boyfriend, then?”
“No - it’s nothing like that. We’re both… we have similar... we both went to boys school. Private school. I suppose it’s just that. This isn’t uncommon. Just an...agreement. A… it’s just sex. Honestly. That’s all. It’s a convenience that suits us both. I guess you could call it friends with benefits-” Ben actually did air quotes with his fingers - “if that term wasn’t so absolutely vile”
“So... are you gay?”
“What? You’ve seen me date women, Larry. No. I’m not gay. Bi? ...probably? I’ve never really thought about it. I’ve never lov... I’ve never been with a man I loved. It’s always just been a sex thing. Like the bloody Greeks! Not that I’ve never had feelings for a man. I’ve just… they’ve never been... reciprocal.”
“So you exclusively fuck men who don’t have feelings for you? This isn’t sounding better the more you talk if I’m honest.”
Ben rolled his eyes in frustration. He knew it wouldn’t be easy to explain but he really thought Larry would have reacted better than this.
“Who else knows?”
“No one. We’ve never told anyone, and we’ve never been… um… found out like that before.”
“I don’t know how! You were hardly surreptitious! You must’ve had him bent over that table as soon as the door slammed! Didn’t you think one of us could come back?!
“You never have before!” Ben realised he shouldn’t have said that the moment it came out of his mouth.
“Oh my God! So this has been going on, literally under our noses, for years!”
“Please stop taking this personally, Larry.”
“So is it just Mat? Are there others? And please God don't say Simon. Or Jim.”
“There have been others. Years ago. But now, yes it's just Mat.”
“But why him?!”
“It’s… easy. We’ve known each other so long. It’s like playing bloody badminton together. It’s not… it isn’t…”
“DO YOU LOVE HIM?” It was the one thing Larry had fully resolved to definitely not ask and he was just as surprised as Ben at the force with which the question exploded out of him. Ben’s frustration got the better of him and he groaned and threw his arms up in the air, then held his right hand up to his forehead.
“Are you actually listening at all to what I’m saying?! No! The whole point is that it doesn’t mean anything! Are you… are you jealous ? Is it Mat? Do you… do you like Mat?” Ben softened as he realised this would make perfect sense. Larry was a reasonable, lovely man. To a fault. And he’d been surprised at the scale of his reaction. Him having feelings for Mat would explain everything. Larry stared at him agape. Ben figured he’d hit the nail on the head.
“Oh Larry I’m so sorry - If I'd known then I’d never have done that. You must know that? I’d never do anything to hurt you mate. Not on purpose. You… you’re my best…” Ben trailed off, genuinely devastated that he had unintentionally been causing Larry pain this whole time through a thoroughly insignificant engagement with Mat.
Larry could not believe just how completely Ben had misunderstood everything, and yet was far too scared to set him straight, as it were.
“I don’t like Mat,” was as much as he dared to admit, in a barely audible mumble. And even then he started to spiral. “I mean, of course I like Mat. I love Mat! He’s brilliant! But I’m not jealous that you apparently get to fuck him every Friday and I don’t, if that’s what you mean.”
Ben exhaled loudly and slowly through his mouth, squinting at Larry, praying harder than ever that their usual ability to read each other’s minds would kick in and he would know what the other man was trying to get across to him, but it felt like there was a very solid wall between their thoughts right now. What wasn’t Larry telling him? He started a slow walk over to him with his arms outstretched, hoping to invite him into a hug so they could expel some tension from the atmosphere. To Ben’s utter devastation though, Larry looked terrified, almost on the brink of tears.
“Oh mate, come here,” Ben whispered, taking another step forward.
“Don’t touch me,” Larry murmured, ducking out of Ben’s arms and back towards the hallway, bumping into the walls in his panic. “I’ll - I’ll fucking die if you touch me, Ben. I’m sorry, I can’t. I can’t do this.”
“Larry, what the fuck, don’t be ridiculous!” Ben shouted and tried to grab his wrist as he made for the front door. “Please, stay, talk to me, let me explain more if you want? Please, don’t leave . What is it?”
Larry paused directly in front of the door, and his head dropped to his chest as he considered his next words very carefully, without turning around. Ben held his breath.
“It’s not about Mat ,” Larry said simply, hoping to convey what he was too much of a coward to put words to.
And then he was gone.
“It’s not about Mat”
Larry’s words echoed through the house and Ben’s brain. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been stood staring at his own front door, still ajar, but he was eventually brought back to earth by someone slamming a car door in the street.
“It’s not about Mat”
What was it about, then? Ben closed and locked the door, and instinctively retrieved his phone from his pocket and had opened his messages to Larry before realising he had no idea what to type. The last message he’d received from Larry was days ago, Friday morning, before - well, before everything. It was equal parts strange and sad. He started typing and instantly deleting -
Please come back
Will you at least message me when you get home?
What’s it about?
Please please come back Larry
Nothing felt right, or enough. Ben locked his phone and shoved it back into his pocket and went back into the kitchen. The two stone cold cups of tea on the bench seemed to glare at him in an accusatory way. Fucked that up royally, didn’t you? he imagined them goading as he emptied their contents down the sink.
“It’s not about Mat ”
Well if it wasn’t about Mat , was it…? No. The only other possible explanation was that Larry had feelings for him, and that was mental. Absolutely mental. No. It would have come up before now, surely? They were best friends. They had been for years.
* * * * * * * * * *
Larry threw himself into the seat on the train with such force that he startled the poor woman minding her own business in the window seat. “Sorry!” he all but shouted at her, eliciting a grimace and her pointedly returning to her book.
Fuck’s sake. Fucking coward. Idiot. Fucking hell.
Larry’s inner monologue rotated these four phrases for the better part of the journey home. Now and then when he pulled his phone back out from his coat to check Twitter or change the music he was listening to, he instinctively opened his messages - really saddened at the initial realisation that Ben was no longer at the top as he usually was, their last exchange before the weekend having been bumped down by repeated “You ok?” messages from Martha and notifications from Deliveroo. He went to compose a message to Ben, but couldn’t phrase anything properly:
You know I’m no good at saying things out loud
I don’t want anything to change between us, Ben
Larry locked his phone, shoved it back in his coat pocket, leaned back against the headrest and closed his eyes.
* * * * * * * * * *
“He wasn’t talking about me.”
Ben was staring at himself in the hallway mirror, keys in hand, talking aloud and alone. His dithering and second-guessing and questioning himself had stretched so far into the evening that it was now pitch black outside, and raining lightly with the rumbles of distant thunder suggesting the weather was only going to get worse.
“He wasn’t talking about me, was he? No.” Ben gave himself a very stern look.
This is fucking ridiculous, he thought internally this time, scrubbing his palm across his face. I just need to talk to him. Although he probably won’t answer the fucking phone to me now. Shit. He glanced at the time on his watch, it was getting towards 10pm.
“He couldn’t have been talking about me… could he? No. Of course not.”
Ben frowned at his reflection, shifted his weight from foot to foot, still staying close to the door.
“It’s not about Mat .”
* * * * * * * * * *
Larry heard what very much sounded like a knock at the front door, but given that it was absolutely pissing it down with rain outside, and half past eleven at night, he decided to ignore it. Probably some drunk dickhead anyway, probably not even his door. He flipped the lightswitch in the kitchen, shoved his phone in his dressing gown pocket and picked up his mug of tea, ready to head upstairs. Another knock on what definitely was his front door, more urgent sounding. Larry sighed. He didn’t need this. Whatever this was. Not after today.
He threw up the hood on his dressing gown and grabbed his keys from the hook on the wall when whoever it was outside abandoned knocking and rang the doorbell.
“Alright, alright, fucking hell!” Larry shouted as he turned the lock and wrenched the door open.
Larry felt his heart backflip and land right in his throat. He froze where he stood, one hand still on the door handle.
The rain was hammering down and Ben was stood on his front step, absolutely drenched, no coat, the same blue shirt and black jeans he’d been wearing when Larry had fled a few hours earlier. He was shaking, although it wasn’t particularly cold. His normally meticulously styled silver hair was scraped back from his forehead. The two of them stood staring at each other for a few quiet seconds. Then Ben repeated back to Larry the last thing he’d said before running away:
“It’s not about Mat .”
Oh, god . The emphasis on “Mat”. So Ben had actually worked out what he meant. Although Larry had been longing for this epiphany of Ben’s for the best part of a decade, now it was here and dripping rainwater on his doormat, it terrified him.
“No. Not Mat .” Larry said simply, echoing the stress on their friend’s name.
The whole thing was preposterously cinematic. Ben wouldn’t have been out of place in a Hollywood romance, as the water ran down his face and neck and his chest heaved with every gasping breath - mostly with emotion, Larry supposed, but probably also a little trying to catch some air as a man in his mid-to-late-forties who’d apparently just legged it from the station. Larry thought that he himself didn’t look the part so much, stood there in his underwear and fluffy brown Chewbacca dressing gown, but wasn’t that always the way? Ben absolutely stunningly attractive and Larry just sort of.
Next to him.
In the big Hollywood blockbuster, Ben would have pulled Larry out into the rain too, and they would have kissed passionately and gazed into each other’s eyes and all would be forgiven and forgotten and understood without need for words, and they’d live happily ever after starting tonight and God , that seemed amazing to Larry as the possibility danced through his imagination for a second.
What actually happened was:
Ben batted Larry’s arm gently to make him let go of the door handle, then took a step into the hallway and bumped into the other man clumsily as he closed the front door behind him. He coughed, and they stared dumbfounded at each other for a moment. Larry didn’t dare speak. Was Ben here to confront him about his feelings? Lay the law down? Interrogate him as would only be fair, given how Larry had turned up at Ben’s earlier this evening? Oh - kick the shit out of him for lying for all these years and pretending to be his best friend with no ulterior motive, maybe? Whatever it was, it was urgent, and Ben’s breathing was getting faster and faster and he actually was balling his hands into fists, so Larry screwed his eyes closed and braced for impact.
Then suddenly, Ben’s mouth was on his.
Ben was actually kissing him.
Trying to, anyway, but Larry had become paralysed with fear and utter, intense confusion. Larry opened his mouth a fraction instinctively as his higher consciousness tried desperately to register exactly what was happening and Ben moaned softly and wrapped Larry in his arms and held him close as he softly slipped his tongue into the other man’s mouth. Larry was absolutely gone, melted, mindless, rendered idiotic by the moment and the kiss for approximately seven seconds when everything snapped back into focus and he pushed Ben away so forcefully with both hands to the chest that he stumbled backwards several steps into the hallway.
“What the FUCK!” Larry roared. “What the FUCKING, FUCKING, FUCK, BEN!”
“Larry, it’s really late-” Ben started, clearly trying to shush him.
“I’m well aware of the FUCKING TIME, BEN. I was going to BED then some fucking ARSEHOLE was knocking on my fucking DOOR in the middle of the FUCKING NIGHT, and-”
“Okay, okay, okay! I’m sorry. I should have said I was on my way over. But you didn’t, earlier, by the way. And I had to see you, and as you can tell-” Ben gestured up and down at himself, at the puddle of rainwater that was slowly expanding around his feet on the wooden floor “- I didn’t put a lot of planning into this.”
Larry paced up and down in front of Ben, the poignancy of the situation somewhat dulled by the absolute absurdity of Ben pleading and consoling, completely soaked through in his shirt and jeans and Larry incandescent with rage, stomping around dressed as a Wookiee. As though he had sensed Ben’s amusement at his attire, Larry yanked the hood of his dressing gown back down and started raking both hands through his hair as he walked back and forth.
“Fucking… fucking…fucking hell . I am NOT Mat, Ben.”
“I know you’re not Mat. Neither am I. I thought that was the whole point?”
“I told you how I feel about you and you come in here all, all, all WET and SEXY and try to fuck me!”
“Wow, okay, NO!” Ben shouted back, then immediately went back to his hushed tones. “I don’t know how today’s script was written in your head, but you didn’t actually tell me out loud how you feel about me, Larry, you were very weird and cryptic, remember? You walked out of the house in the middle of the conversation and left me to work it out myself. And... I think I did, which is why I’m here. Not to fuck you. I want to talk to you.”
“What is there to SAY!” Larry started again, wringing his hands together and pacing relentlessly, resolutely avoiding eye contact.
“You could start with actually telling me how you feel about me. If you want.”
Larry stumbled. He kept his back to Ben, whose gaze was fixed on the back on the other man’s head.
“I think-” Larry began, then immediately his courage left him and his head dropped to his chest. “Fuck, don’t make me say it out loud, Ben. You know I can’t.”
“Can I ask questions, then?”
Larry smirked grimly at how much this was echoing the conversation at Ben’s a scant few hours ago. He nodded, still facing away from him. There was a moment’s silence between the two of them, punctuated by the slow and steady drip of the rainwater from Ben’s clothes onto the floorboards.
“Are you in love with me?”
“Fucking hell, Ben-”
“Sorry that was a bit of a mad one to start with. But you do… do you like me, more than as a friend?”
“Yes,” Larry admitted quietly.
“Okay. Uhh, okay,” Ben breathed.
When it was clear that Ben needed time to process this and wasn’t moving onto the next question, Larry simply mumbled - “Sorry.”
“Oh, oh no, Larry, don’t be sorry ,” Ben entreated. He desperately wanted Larry to turn around so he could try to read his expression but knew he had to let his friend take the lead here or he could overwhelm him and quite possibly end up back outside in the rain waiting for the first train back to London in the morning. “Right, so. How… how long? Have you felt like this?”
A long silence. And then, barely audible, “Years.” Larry choked up when he realised this was the first time he had even admitted this to himself, let alone anyone else, let alone Ben.
Ben exhaled loudly through his mouth. He knew it was a stupid question, but he couldn’t stop it before it escaped his lips - “oh mate, why didn’t you ever... say anything?”
“Because I didn’t want to ruin everything! That’s not the sort of thing you slip into conversation with your apparently straight best mate! And I didn’t want…” he trailed off staring intently at the floor.
“What? What didn’t you want?”
“I… didn’t want… couldn’t risk… losing you.”
Ben wanted to say what he felt in his heart, which was of course that Larry could never lose him. But he also understood the fear.
“I felt like that, about telling you. About Mat. I nearly did, once. Quite a while ago. God I wish I had, now.”
“Mmm,” was all Larry could come back with. Ben realised very quickly that this was not the time to bring up Mat and tried to back track a bit.
“I didn’t know you also, uh, I didn’t know you liked men. As well.”
Larry was still refusing to face Ben, but at least he kept replying.
“Neither did I. I mean, I don’t, usually. It’s not like the first time I met you I thought ‘wow, now I’m questioning my whole bloody sexuality!’ It’s just kind of… grown. Over time. I don’t even know what to do with it, now I know that you do too… like, that it’s possible.. fuck, I don’t mean.. I mean, it’s not like I want to… I don’t know. I don’t fucking know .”
Larry quickly skipped barefooted around Ben, still avoiding his eyes and dodging the wet spots on the floor, and went to sit on the stairs with his head in his hands.
“It’s okay.” Ben knew saying it wouldn’t really change anything, but he did mean it.
They fell back to silence for a good few minutes, Larry pressing the heels of his hands hard into his eyes, Ben staring back at him as hard, wondering what was going on his head.
“Right, well, you’ll have to give me your clothes,” Larry suddenly said, looking up and into Ben’s eyes at last, his voice very business-like, his expression blank.
“W-what?!” Ben squeaked.
Larry rolled his eyes as he stood up, readjusting his dressing gown.
“Oh, don’t, Ben. I mean - you’ve missed the last train home now, not that you should be going back out in that state anyway, so you’ll have to stay here tonight, and you’re not going to work tomorrow in my clothes so you’ll have to give me what you’ve got on so it’s washed and dry for the morning.”
“Oh! Right! I mean, I can stay off tomorrow as well, I’ll just say… It’s feasible that I’m still... I’ll just go home when-” Ben stumbled over his words as Larry slowly stepped closer to him, eyeing all the rainwater on the floor. How had this shift in dynamic happened so quickly?
“No honestly, please, come in. I need you back in there with me. Today was, it was fine , but. Please, come back in tomorrow?”
Ben managed a nod, absolutely flummoxed by the total 180 Larry had made from emotional wreck unable to put words to his feelings to this very practical, capable adult with a sensible plan. It was getting late, long after midnight now, and Ben knew from experience on trips together over their joint career that Larry valued sleep above almost everything and that it was highly likely he was compartmentalising the whole situation to be dealt with in the morning.
And Ben was grateful for it, truth be told. Larry busied himself with sorting out the spare bed, finding Ben big enough clothes of his to comfortably sleep in (the casual pretence was broken briefly when Ben suggested he could just sleep naked and the pair of them dissolved into nervous coughing fits), then starting the washing machine, mopping the hallway, directing Ben to the shower with towels as though he hadn’t been in Larry’s house a hundred times before now. It was the most impressive acting, and before Ben realised it he was settled in the small bedroom wearing a slightly-too-big grey tshirt and slightly-too-short black jogging bottoms, still clutching the phone charger Larry had thrust into his hands before yelling an altogether far too cheery “goodnight!” at him and closing the door.
Everything was still for a blissful moment in the dark room. Then Ben abruptly remembered that he’d kissed Larry.
“Oh, god,” he said, out loud to himself again. “Oh, fuck .”
Thank you for all your lovely words and your patience as we finished chapter 4, we hope it lives up to the anticipation!