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Strawberries, Vanilla, And A Different Kind Of Sweetness Altogether

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7:02 pm. Outside the apartment, the sky starts turning a peachy colour on the horizon. Soon it'll be a brilliant pink, mixed with oranges and purples as it blends into the blue sky above. Golden light spills into the living room through the glass door that leads onto the planter-covered balcony. 

 

The quiet beeping of a timer rings from the kitchen. Gordon Freeman, the single being occupying the shared living space in the apartment, reaches over and slaps the screen of his phone, hoping some part of his palm hits the right button to turn it off. 

 

The timer cuts out. Loud music quickly fades back in and one of Gordon's Spotify playlists resumes now that the timer is off. Gordon pulls on a pair of oven mitts, leans down to open the oven, and pulls out a circular cake pan. Pushing the oven door closed with a knee, he sets the pan down on a cooling rack with a light exhale. 

 

He shakes the mitts off and picks up a toothpick to check if the cake finished baking. Satisfied with the result, he tosses the toothpick in the trash and leaves the cake to cool off, turning instead to a bowl of unmixed ingredients that would soon be frosting. 

 

Fifteen minutes later, Gordon sets the bread knife aside and sets the top half of the bisected cake aside. A glance at the time reveals that it's 7:19 pm. He frowns. Eleven minutes is barely enough time to frost and decorate the cake in the way he wants to, but Gordon is nothing if not stubborn. 

 

Determined to get the job done on time, he wastes no time spreading frosting on the bottom half of the cake, layering strawberry preserves on top of the frosting. He then quickly reassembles the cake and drops the rest of the frosting on top. 

 

Once the frosting is spread, Gordon grabs a bowl of cut strawberries, tosses a few in his mouth, and arranges the rest in an interlocking pattern around the perimeter of the cake's top. 

 

Right on time, the door to the apartment clicks as the lock slides open, and Benrey walks in, kicking off the pair of worn converse he'd been wearing. Gordon sighs in relief as he sets the remaining dirty bowls, measuring cups, and cooking utensils in the sink. Casting a quick glance at the refrigerator, where he'd shoved the cake in the last second, he steps up to the entrance to the kitchen just as Benrey walks up to greet him. 

 

"Hey, Benrey! Welcome home." Gordon smiles brightly as he greets his friend. Said friend looks him over, taking in the flour-covered state he's in, standing before him in an oversized MIT t-shirt tucked into light jean shorts. Benrey raises an eyebrow. 

 

"Hey. You're uhh... A little, messy there, huh? Messy flour boy? Gordon Flourman?"

 

Gordon snorts. "Yeah, guess I am a bit messy. How was dinner with Tommy?"

 

Benrey stares at Gordon, and he can almost see the gears in his brain turning. A few seconds pass, then the alien blinks and hums in acknowledgement. 

 

"It was um, good, yeah. Had sushi and stuff. Tommy ate all of the green stuff. Uhhhh wasabi that's what it was. I dunno how he just ate all of it. I mean, he's not human, but neither am I, and that shit hurts if you eat two big spoons of it at once." They chuckle at the ridiculous, yet completely unshocking situation they described. Gordon laughs as well, rolling his eyes fondly. 

 

"Yeah, I'm not surprised in the slightest. That guy shotguns soda like there's no tomorrow, of course he can eat a ton of wasabi without dying of pain." He sighs, relieved that Benrey enjoyed his evening out. Glancing at the living room, he asks, "Want to play Mario Kart or something?"

 

Benrey nods, eyes scanning the mess of a kitchen. "You uh.. Need any help in here?" 

 

Gordon quickly shakes his head, waving his hands for good measure (and also in an anxious stim). "No, no, no, you're good, I'll be done in a minute or two! Don't worry bout it, man." He waves his hands in the direction of the living room. "Go sit, go, go. Start up Mario Kart if you want to play soon as I'm done?"

 

Given a task, Benrey smirks. "Little Baby Feetman needs help turning on Mario Kart? Ready to get your ass kicked by Toad?" 

 

The reply draws a snort out of Gordon, but Benrey walks away from the doorway before he can retort, which honestly, is probably for the better. Mission of getting Benrey out of the kitchen complete, he rushes to wipe down the counters and fill the dishes with tap water for them to soak. 

 

Once the kitchen, and Gordon by extension, is relatively clean, he makes his way over to where Benrey had already settled under a light blanket, blowing light green and copper sweetvoice bubbles at the ceiling. He plops down beside them, making them bounce slightly, and picks up the spare joycon they'd set next to themself. Benrey smiles happily over at him. 

 

"Ready for me to kick your ass?"

 

 

Gordon had not been ready to get his ass kicked, but as threatened by Benrey, he most definitely does get his ass kicked, not getting first place even once. 

 

The competition (if you could call it that) ends with a final race through the N64 Rainbow Road track, Benrey lying practically upside down on the couch, Gordon leaning forward in concentration. 

 

Benrey got first place, Gordon got seventh. 

 

Despite Gordon's consistent losses, though, he's not upset or angry, laughter echoing through the room as Benrey continuously knocks him off of the track and into the void of space, eliciting a colourful array of swears from the amused victim. 

 

Now, the two of them relax, letting the joycons slip from their hands as they stare at the main screen of Mario Kart 8. A minute passes, then two, as both of them sit in comfortable silence; then Gordon remembers the whole reason he'd asked Benrey to stay in the living room. Perking up, he stands from the couch, drawing Benrey's eyes to himself, and heads to the kitchen. He hears the curious alien stand and calls to him, "Wait a second, I'm just getting something!" 

 

He's answered with a beep of affirmation in the form of sweet voice, and a quiet sound as Benrey presumably sits on the floor in front of the couch. He grins, content and a touch excited, and pulls the chilled strawberry vanilla cake off of its spot in the fridge. Nudging the refrigerator door closed with his hip, he briefly sets the cake down on the counter as he grabs tableware for the two of them and stacks it so he can fit it in one hand. As an afterthought, he opens the fridge again and grabs the half empty bottle of lemonade standing on a shelf on the door, tucks it under his right arm, and closes the fridge with his hip again. 

 

Eyebrows furrowed in concentration, he picks up the tableware in his right hand, steady thanks to his high-tech prosthetic, then carefully picks up the cake in his left hand, lemonade still tucked under his arm. Satisfied with his reckless balancing act, he strides back out of the kitchen with smooth, careful steps. 

 

As he enters, Benrey's eyes widen upon the sight of Gordon holding first of all, a fucking cake, and second of all, also holding a whole ass bottle of lemonade and tableware for two. They stay still, though, almost statuelike as to not cause Gordon to drop the excess amount of things he's carrying. 

 

The rash decision maker himself walks up to the coffee table and drops into a squat. Still focused, he slowly sets the tableware down on the table, then brings his hand back up to support the cake with both hands instead of one. Cake stabilized, he proceeds to set it down beside the tableware, then takes the chilled lemonade from under his arm and places it on the table instead. Gordon properly sits down next to Benrey, pleased at his success. 

 

"You really are a dumbass, huh, Freeman." Benrey mumbles, more as an incredulous statement than a question, and turns his gaze from the assortment of new things placed on the coffee table up to Gordon's face. "The fuck is this for?"

 

Gordon snorts at their reaction, leaning back against the couch from his spot next to Benrey on the floor. "I didn't want to walk back and forth between the kitchen and here. It would've been weird. So IIIIII brought it all at once." He shrugs. "And do you really not know what it's for? It's a cake dude, did you already forget it's your birthday? Did beating me in Mario Kart knock all of your short term memories out of your head?" 

 

Benrey rolls their eyes. "Mneh meh mneh" seems to be the go-to avoidant answer for the day, as they mutter that and stick their tongue out at Gordon. 

 

"You know what I meant, Idiotman, rude. Meant, why'd you go and get me a cake and all this stuff? I already had dinner."

 

Gordon's eyebrows twitch down in an almost imperceptible movement of anxiety. "That's why I didn't want to give it to you right when you got home, not so soon after you had food. Thought you'd want a cake for your birthday. You don't have to eat it if you don't have to." 

 

Benrey shakes his head. "No way dude, I'll eat this whole cake right now, fuck you. This is fucking dope, how'd you find the perfect cake?" 

 

As Benrey replies, Gordon reaches over and sets out the tableware, consisting of two glasses, two forks, a knife, and two plates. He then goes on to start cutting the cake, but waits to make more than one cut, unsure of how much of the cake Benrey wants. 

 

"I didn't find it, I just remembered you said you liked most vanilla things at some point, and you seemed to really love the strawberries I bought a few weeks ago, so I bought some more and made this while you were out. How much do you want, is this too big or...?" His hand, holding the knife, hovers over a spot marking about a sixth of the cake. 

 

He receives no answer, so he looks back at Benrey, and discovers that the eldritch being is staring at him with bewilderment and something else all over their face. Appreciation? Relief? 

 

No, all of those were there too, but only in little drops compared to whatever it was. 

 

Later. He'll figure it out later. Gordon blinks and cocks his head at Benrey in an unsaid question. A moment later, they shake their head and let out a few chartreuse sweet voice orbs. 

 

Taking stock of the situation, they nod and finally answer. "Yeah, um, there is fine, please and thank you." Gordon hums in acknowledgement and cuts down, then pulls the piece onto one of the two plates, revealing the layered inside. He puts a spoon on the plate beside the slice and hands the whole arrangement off to his stunned friend, who takes it on instinct. 

 

As Gordon turns back around to cut himself a piece as well, he hears a soft "holy shit" from beside him. Quickly finishing his current task, he looks back at Benrey as he slides his own piece onto the remaining plate. 

 

Benrey is staring at the plate in his hands, as if they hadn't moved an inch since Gordon had handed it to them. He looks a bit closer, concerned and nervous, and to his surprise, Benrey's wide eyes are brimming with tears. 

 

He instantly sets his plate down, reaching over to put a hand on their shoulder. Voice tinged with anxiety, he asks, "Hey, Ben, are you okay? Is something wrong?" 

 

The vocalized concern pushes Benrey over the edge, and the tension in their shoulders dissipates as the tears in their eyes spill over. They gasp, trying to gather themself, unsuccessful in their efforts. 

 

"Shit- What's-" Gordon starts, but is interrupted by Benrey before he can get any more words out. 

 

"I'm okay shit sorry. I'm fine it's okay everything's okay calm down please? It's fine," they blurt out, rushing to reassure their worried friend. They reach up to their face to wipe the tears away, continuing to hold the cake in their right hand. "I'm okay, I'm just- it's-" They cut themself off, taking a deep breath.

 

Gordon is still concerned, but the reassurance seems genuine enough that he instead opts to reach around and give Benrey a side hug. 

 

"Take your time, man," he whispers, rubbing the shoulder his hand rests on with his thumb. They release a shuddering breath and lean into his touch, almost subconsciously. A few more deep breaths later, they collect themself and lean further against him. 

 

"Nothing's wrong. I'm just... holy shit. You-" Benrey starts, then shudders involuntarily. "You did this? For me? And you remembered all that stuff? And made a fucking cake? I just- you chose to make? This?? I-" they cut themself off again, setting the plate of cake they still held down on the coffee table. As soon as both of their hands are free, they reach up and drag them down their face, smearing tears across their cheeks. Sweet voice in a wide range of colours pours out of their mouth, a rainbow of fairy lights filling the air in front of them both. 

 

Gordon stares at the multicoloured mass in wonder, then rouses his brain back into focus and pulls Benrey into a full hug. 

 

"Of course I did this for you, Ben. You're my... You're important to me. Of course I remembered the things you like, of course I put in the time and effort to make you a cake for your fucking birthday." 

 

The confirmation sends another shudder through Benrey, and they bury their face in Gordon's chest, clutching his shirt as he wraps his arms around their back. 

 

Gordon rests his chin on the top of Benrey's head, and they come undone for the second time that night. Their grip on his shirt tightens, and they pull him closer, mumbling something as small strings of sweet voice bubbles escape from the edges of their mouth. 

 

Whatever they had said was too quiet for Gordon to understand, and he hums in an inquiring tone, asking for them to repeat themself. 

 

Benrey buries their face further in his soft chest, pressing closer even though there's no space left to move. They mumble what they'd said again, now at a louder, more audible volume, repeating it over and over as if a dam broke inside their mind. 

 

"I love you. I love you I love you I love you I love you I love you holy shit I love you so much I can barely breathe I love you more than anything. I love you I love you I love you there's so much of everything but it's all good and it's you which makes it even better and I love you so fucking much I love you I love you I love you I love you."

 

Gordon freezes, tensing up and staring straight ahead in shock. Noticing this, Benrey starts to pull away, whispering a shaky "sorry", but Gordon forces his mind to unfreeze, and as it kicks back into motion he squeezes Benrey closer to himself, preventing him from escaping. The alien makes a sound of confusion and concern, but hesitantly resumes their previous position, now peering up at Gordon. 

 

The latter lets out a shuddering sigh and relaxes his muscles, but pulls back just enough to look Benrey in the eyes. He scans their face for signs of anything to help him understand, taking in the magenta blush covering their cheeks, wide eyes with their pupils so dilated their irises aren't visible, the bottom lip that they've pulled into their mouth and are chewing on it nervously, the trembling hands still clutching his t-shirt. 

 

He presses his forehead against theirs, meeting their eyes. "I... You love me? Out of everyone to exist?" he asks, needing some sort of confirmation that what's happening is real and not just another bittersweet dream. 

 

Benrey nods, meekly looking up at him. "Yeah," they breathe out. "Have for ages. It's always been you. Of course it's you. No one else would remember that I like vanilla everything or notice that I liked those strawberries. No one else would be there for me no matter what, even with all the shit we've gone through, with all the trauma. No one's that important to me except you." They stare into Gordon's bright green gaze now, unwavering. "Yeah, I love you, Gordon."

 

Their confession blazes through Gordon like lightning, if lightning didn't hurt and instead left behind an unimaginably amazing warmth. He shudders again, his own eyes now collecting tears. He wants to relax into the hug, yet he can't draw himself away from staring into Benrey's eyes, just as mesmerized by them as they are by his. 

 

Instead, he brings up his left, human hand, and rests it gently against Benrey's cheek, rubbing away some residual tears, despite having some of his own in his eyes. 

 

"I love you too, Benrey." The tears gathered in the corners of his eyes slide down his cheeks. "God, I never thought I'd get to say that. I love you. I love you. Fuck, I love you so much, you have no idea. I'd give you the world if I could and you asked. I love you so damn much, holy shit. I love you." Gordon's eyes fall half-closed, open adoration and relief now the only feelings visible in them. 

 

Benrey turns their head to the side, still pressed against Gordon's palm, and lets soft pink and blue sweet voice cascade out of their mouth. The colours are ones Gordon's seen before, though never enough to warrant asking for a translation. Now, though, he can guess what they mean. 

 

Once the stream of colours ends, Benrey looks back to Gordon and smiles softly, a completely starstruck look in their eyes. The sight draws a bright smile from Gordon as well as his mind finally fully registers the situation. 

 

The two of them are too emotionally raw at the moment to be able to make jokes or be embarrassed or flustered; instead, they just stare at each other for an amount of time neither of them keeps track of. A while later, though, Benrey breaks the surprisingly comfortable silence. 

 

"Can... Can I kiss you?" they whisper, as if trying not to spook a timid animal. 

 

Gordon nods, smile growing wider, and his cheeks tint red with happiness and restrained excitement. Benrey leans up, tilting their head to fit perfectly against the taller man. They brush their lips against Gordon's, a whisper of a kiss, as if still unsure. 

 

Gordon doesn't pull back, doesn't lean in, doesn't move at all, adoration in his eyes. Emboldened, they lean back up and press their lips against his, pulling him down with their grip on his shirt and pouring every current emotion of theirs into the action. 

 

The soft lips against his prompt Gordon to reciprocate with just as much enthusiasm, if not more, and he does, heaving Benrey into his lap with his right hand and still cradling their face with his left hand. 

 

Benrey nips at Gordon's bottom lip, running his tongue along the seam between his upper and lower lips. Gordon melts into the action, opening up to tug at Benrey's own lip as they settle into an easy pace. One of Benrey's hands makes its way into Gordon's hair, sliding through the loose curls.

 

After a few minutes, the two of them break apart, gasping lightly for breath. Not even ten second later, Gordon leans down, coming back for more. This time, there's no hesitation, no tentativeness, only pure, all-consuming love for one another. 

 

When they separate for the second time, Gordon rests his forehead against Benrey's once more, and exhales peacefully, though forcefully. They chuckle, also breathing out strongly, a brilliant smile on their face. 

 

Gordon stares at them, overwhelmed in the best way. They stare back, with the same feeling shining on their face. 

 

"Are we... Yknow. Together now?" Benrey mumbles, still the tiniest bit shy. 

 

Gordon nods, a hopeful look on his face. "Yeah, if you'd like to, I'd love to be in a relationship with you." 

 

"Fuck yeah," they whisper, almost reverently. Then, at a more normal volume, they exclaim, "Fuck yeah, Boyfriend Gordon Achievement unlocked!"

 

Said boyfriend chuckles, eyes creasing with a fond smile. "Yeah," he breathes. "That's right. Epic Boyfriend Benrey Get."

 

They grin at him with their sharky teeth, and Gordon wants to live in this moment forever, basking in their mutual love for each other.

 

Gordon casts a quick glance at the clock on the wall, then looks down at the coffee table. 

 

"...Benrey, we haven't eaten the damn cake yet."

 

The eldritch being bursts into laughter again, causing Gordon to follow suit. 

 

This day had gone in the most positive, unexpected way, and fuck if he wasn't grateful for it.