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won't you hold me in your arms (and keep me safe from harm)

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Ben doesn’t know what exactly he did in a previous life to deserve this, to be sitting here right now, but it must have been something bad.

The black leather of the armchair he’s thrown himself into is too soft; the expensive material too buttery under his hands. He’s always hated this room. The minimalist decor and sterile, white walls, supposed to represent the high standard and quality being promised to their clients, feel cold rather than inviting. Ben has never cared much for the flashy decor. He remembers when this agency was just him and Ruby in the spare bedroom at his parents’ home.

They met in school years ago. Ruby is two years older than him; too young to be an agent that can be taken seriously some say, but she has proven just how calculating and smart she can be in the almost six years they’ve been working together on Ben’s career now. She’s taken him from a guy that plays the odd role in the local theatre to an internationally known movie star - and her agency to one of the most renown in the country as well.

Ben can’t describe how proud he is, even if her sense of decorum differs vastly from his own.

She hasn’t said why she wants to see him today, but he has an inkling. There’s been some stuff happening lately that’s a bit out of the ordinary, even for him as an actor. He’s no stranger to weird letters or strange gifts from fans and supporters, or even the odd threat to sue him, but in the last couple of weeks the threats have dramatically increased - not just in frequency but also in ferocity.

It started with just one or two letters a few months ago, complaining about something he said in an interview or about his supposed attitude in photos published by the press. It’s nothing out of the ordinary; there are always going to be people that simply don’t like you when you’re in the public eye. It’s only when his team notices the letters threatening him bodily harm and, more recently, also threatening any of his family and friends that happen to get photographed with him, that everyone starts getting unsettled.

That particular shift worried Ben as well, especially the fierceness of each threat made against whoever was seen getting close to him. And how could it not? It’s one thing when the vitriol and remarks are aimed at him and him alone, he can deal with that just fine after years of being in the public eye, but it’s another thing altogether when they’re bringing his family and close friends into this.

He’s trying not to put too much emphasis on that thought, still convinced this is all just coming from some loser with too much time on their hands, wanting to give him a little scare. His family doesn’t quite share his sentiment though and it ultimately didn’t take that much convincing from them for him to go to the police with this but they hadn’t been too helpful in the end, only telling him to keep a diary of the threats and to hang on to the letters until they actually had something real to investigate. Figures.

Apparently, his agent is also at her wits end.

He looks up when he hears the door to Ruby’s office open, watching her overworked secretary hurry out and come to a stop in front of him. He can never quite remember her name - Lissy? Lilly? Something like that, he thinks - but she has this permanent aura of stress around her that almost makes him feel sorry for her.

“Mr. Mitchell? Ms. Allen and Mr. Highway are ready for you now.”

Ben’s eyebrows knit together in confusion because he’s pretty sure he has met every partner in this agency and he has never once heard of someone called Highway. He’s even more bewildered when he follows Lacey into the office and is met by his agent sitting in one of the lavish chairs that surround her heavy and round mahogany table.

The confusing part is the man sitting opposite of her though, dressed in a tight, black suit with a white dress shirt underneath. His hair is nicely styled, gelled to one side, and his eyes seem warm and inviting when they meet Ben’s. There’s an aura around him that screams business though; like there’s some cool professionalism hiding under the friendly giant act.

If he recognizes Ben from any of his movies, he doesn’t let it show; only giving him a slight nod that Ben reluctantly reciprocates.

“What’s all this then?”

Ben falls into the chair to the side of this Highway guy, eyeing him warily before he looks over at his agent. There’s one of these brown file things lying on the table in front of the man, but it’s shut so Ben has no idea what’s hiding in there. He has a feeling though.

“Ben. I had an interesting conversation with Kathy when I was at the Albert yesterday. She told me about the threats to your life - you know, the ones you assured me had stopped - that you kept from me.”

God, his mom, the traitor.

Unfortunately, he might have told his agent that the letters stopped after he went to the police, because they managed to scare the person off. Okay, maybe he shouldn’t have done that but he really doesn't think they should pay these letters any more attention than they already did - no matter how graphic they’ve become now.

And he knew he shouldn’t have told his mum about the letters and packages that kept being delivered to his PO Box. He should’ve known she wasn’t going to keep that to herself the next time Ruby came to see her at the bar.

He’s not about to admit to that though.

“Who’s this?”

Ben motions his thumb over at the man still sitting silently beside him, not looking away from Ruby’s unimpressed face.

“Don’t change the subject.”

“Come on. We both know it’s just some bloke trying to get attention.”

They’ve had this exact conversation time and time before, with Ruby begging him to take this more seriously and him assuring her that it’s nothing to worry about. He doesn’t like to see her stressing about him; they’ve been friends for years now and the last thing he wants is to cause her more grief.

“Well he certainly has mine. And your family’s. And I’m taking action, I’m not about to lose my best client.”

“Cheers, and here I was thinking we were friends.”

Ruby doesn’t look pleased with his attempts to lighten the mood and Ben sighs, knowing he’s not going to get out of this one so easily. His hunch is confirmed when Ruby goes on without missing a beat.

“This is Callum Highway. He’s going to be your bodyguard for the foreseeable.”

The words take a second to catch up in his mind but when they do he makes a spluttering sound in response. His eyes dart from Ruby to the man beside him, who makes a poor effort in concealing his amusement at their interaction.

Ben doesn’t know what he’s laughing at. The man doesn’t exactly look equipped to handle a petty burglar, no less a serious threat to someone’s life. He doesn’t see any bulging muscles under Highway’s tailored suit that promise some serious manpower and he definitely gives off more BFG vibes than anything else.

“What? I don’t need a bodyguard, Ruby.”

This is more than ridiculous. He doesn’t want some stranger constantly looking over his shoulder, following his every move. He’s more than capable of looking after himself.

“I’m not asking for permission here. I’m worried, Ben, and so is your family. Think of Lexi, okay?”

It’s a low blow bringing his daughter into this, but one that’ll always prove to be successful - and this time is no exception.

“Mr. Mitchell, if I may. I’m army-trained and I’ve had a lot of experience in this field, especially with serious threats of this kind. I assure you, you’re in good hands.”

Ben can’t help but let his eyes wander down to the man's hands. They look big and strong from where they’re neatly folded in the man’s lap and Ben resolutely bites down on any innuendo threatening to claw its way up his throat, knowing it’s only going to worsen this situation. If this Highway guy is really going to be following him around for the foreseeable future, he better at least try to be civil with him.

He has the feeling it’s going to be a long few weeks.

 

*****

 

The car ride back to his house is tense. There are two black SUVs following his Aston Martin, filled with Highway, other members of his team and a barrage of different types of security equipment he’s previously only seen in movies or as props on set - wires, cameras, the whole lot.

The woman Highway had introduced as Dotty is sitting next to him in the passenger's seat, typing away on her phone. Ben had raised an eyebrow at the sight of her, most notably at her smaller figure and the nosering, until Highway told him about her various accomplishments in Martial Arts, obviously noticing his reaction to her and wanting to defend his colleague. Ben has the feeling she’s being underestimated a lot.

She hasn’t said much yet but Ben appreciates that; he isn’t exactly happy about this situation or about the fact that so many strange people will be descending on his home in a few moments and he isn’t in the mood to make small talk with her.

He feels the pressure in his chest lighten once they leave the greater London area and take the winding roads towards Sevenoaks, letting the engine purr as he follows the road into a more remote part of the village, where the houses are bigger and further apart. 

Ben bought his house with his second big paycheck, the first one paying off both of his parents’ houses back in Walford, and while it’s not the biggest in the area by far, it’s no less impressive. He slows down once he’s turning onto the long, gravel driveway leading up to the dark brick home, hearing Dotty let out a snort as she takes in her surroundings and the ivory-clad, outer walls of the home now standing in front of them.

“You really like showing off you’re a movie star, huh?”

He follows her gaze to the estate in front of them, letting his eyes wander over the white Victorian windows, extensive flower beds lining the driveway and the pool house you can just about make out from here. The house itself is set back from the street and slightly elevated, with a huge garden out back and a large conservatory at the back of the house. He had it furnished with lots of dark woods and warm colors, letting his daughter pick most of the furniture inside.

It’s definitely too big for just one person, even if Lexi is here every other weekend when Ben isn’t off shooting another movie, but he likes the quiet and near anonymity of the area here and yeah, maybe he is also showing off a bit. The car and the house may be too much, too flashy, for some but he’s done nine decently successful movies in the past four years and he’s allowed to be proud of it.

“Aren’t you supposed to be nice to me? I’m your client after all.”

“I’m here to protect your life, not your ego.”

Ben isn’t sure yet whether he likes her or not, though he’s leaning towards the former if only for the fact that she’s as gobby as he is and doesn’t let his fame deter her from telling him exactly what she thinks.

They get out of the car in unison and wait for the rest of the security team to park and get out of their cars as well. Highway climbs out of the car and walks over to join them waiting in front of the door and it’s the first time Ben consciously takes in his stature - head to toe. He’s taller than he looked sitting in the chair at Ruby’s, lean with long legs. Ben thought the lack of bulky muscles would make him seem less believable as a bodyguard, but it doesn’t; not at all.

He looks good, Ben begrudgingly has to admit.

“So? What’s happening now, Costner?”

Highway doesn’t rise to the bait, letting the teasing remark fall on deaf ears without so much as raising an eyebrow. Ben wonders if he’s maybe secretly a robot.

“Four of my colleagues will check the perimeter of your house and install motion sensor cameras around the property. Dotty, you will join Charlie and Lee in searching and prepping the house. One person from my main team will stay with you at all times, Mr. Mitchell. Two more people will take position at the end of your driveway in shifts.”

Ben lets out a long sigh, already close to done with all of this. There’s a throbbing in his head at the mere thought of this being his life for the foreseeable future now and he just wants to bury himself under his covers and sleep until this nightmare is over again.

“I will draw up a security roster on who’ll be with you on what day. As discussed with Ms. Allen, whoever it is will stay in one of your guest rooms for that day to ensure protection over night as well.”

“Is all this really necessary?”

He’s aware of how exhausted his own voice sounds and with the way Highway’s face loses some of its tension, he also seems to notice. He follows Ben into the foyer when Ben unlocks the door for all of them, signaling two other men to follow them inside. They immediately start inspecting his front door, pulling a camera doorbell and other electronics out of a large gym bag.

He doesn’t even want to know everything they’re doing to his home.

He likes living alone, likes that he can run around naked if he wants to and doesn’t have to wear this public-approved mask whenever he’s home. And now even that last bit of privacy and refuge is being snatched away from him; taken over by Highway, his army of guard dogs and who knows how many cameras.

“I’ve read the letters you received and I agree with Ms. Allen that this protection is very much needed. If you’re worried about any issues regarding your privacy, I can assure you that the cameras are only facing the property line and driveway. Nothing in here is being captured and my team and I are under strict confidentiality.”

Ben nods, relieved to know that he doesn’t have to worry about that aspect at least. He doesn’t have that much to hide but thankfully, the guise of some privacy is still there.

He leads Highway through the hallway and into the dining room that’s bordering the conservatory, bathed in the golden light of the setting sun. It’s his favorite room in the house besides the conservatory itself, the bright light definitely a great selling point for this house when he bought it years ago, and it almost feels like he’s tainting the serenity of it by talking with Highway about all this bad stuff in here.

They sit down at the large, wooden table in the middle of the room, Ben at the front end and Highway next to him. Ben starts fiddling with his fingers almost immediately, suddenly nervous for some type of reason. Maybe it’s because he can’t get a good read on Highway, which doesn’t happen that often to Ben, and the uncertainty and being alone with him sets his nerves on edge.

“Can you think of anyone who might want to cause you harm? Any known enemies?”

Ben lets out a snort at that. He isn’t exactly Iron Man; there aren’t really a lot of enemies in his life. Grudges maybe; actors he snubbed roles or awards from, men he had slept with and never called again, but no one who’d hate him enough to send him death threats. At least, not that he knows of.

“Not really? There’s always obsessive fans or bigots, who don’t like the fact I’m gay and successful. Other than that I really don’t know.”

Highway nods for a moment, eyes trained on the chipped wood of the table. He almost seems lost in thought before shaking himself out of it, seemingly focussing back on his task. Ben hopes zoning out isn’t his usual mode of protection.

“Okay. If you can think of anything else, please let me know. We’ll try to follow up on as many letters as we can. Until then, there’ll be one of us with you at all times. I will be your primary protection, accompanying you to any press events you still have coming up.”

Oh. Yeah. Ben almost forgot about the TV interview to promote the movie he still has to do in a few weeks time. He just hopes he won't still have a shadow when his movie premieres in two months.

“You also need to inform us every time you want to leave the house, even if it’s just for a jog or to put the bins out. Honest communication is important here.”

“Perfect. Let me know when you wanna start the slumber party as well.”

Ben knows he’s being unnecessarily harsh to the bloke, he’s only doing what he’s paid for, but it’s only been a few hours and he’s already done with all of this. It somehow feels more intrusive to have a myriad of strangers combing through every inch of his home and private life and following him everywhere he goes than potentially being stalked by someone.

He just wants his life to continue as normal. He’s not afraid of some weirdo trying to scare him. He won’t be.

“Mr. Mitchell with all due respect, I work for your agent not for you. So you can be difficult and moan all you want but we’re here to stay for now.”

Ben is not going to make a joke about Highway moaning all he wants for Ben. No, he won’t. He can tell the guy won’t appreciate it and he’s under no illusion that Highway won’t hold back on demonstrating his own defense skills on him should he try to outsmart any of them.

“Fine.”

“I’d rather we work together professionally. You don’t have to like me or want me and my team here but we are going to be in close contact with each other for the foreseeable future.”

He knows Highway is right, of course he does, but he’s not about to admit that to the man’s face. They’re part of each other’s life now, or rather Highway is part of Ben’s, so he’ll have to suck it up and play nice for the time being.

“All right. But I got rules too. First, I’m begging you to stop calling me Mr. Mitchell. It’s Ben, please. You sound like one of those annoying TV reporters.”

Highway gives him a nod, obviously content with Ben’s suggestion.

“Fine. In that case I’m Callum. What else?”

“You and your people don’t judge me or my life. I saw the faces when you heard about the house, the car, the men. You don’t know me so don’t pass judgement, okay?”

Highway, no, Callum looks like he wants to say something to that, even opens his mouth to argue maybe, but he ultimately snaps it shut again, before he continues as normal a moment later.

“That’s not our place. Is there a third?”

Ben is stunned for a second; he would’ve expected at least some kind of remark to that speaking from experience. Most tabloids or producers always have at least something to say about his lifestyle.

“Oh, yeah. You don’t breathe a word to my personal trainer if I make you get up at 1am to get burgers.”

Callum snorts, letting out a soft puff of laughter. It makes Ben pause in his seat and do a double-take to check if he’s seeing right; the image of Callum losing a bit of his cool composure too shocking for him to take in. He looks completely different bathed in a soft smile, less serious and stiff, and there’s a dimple forming in his cheek that makes a strange feeling settle in his chest.

He decides to ignore it.

 

*****

 

“How’s living with your new shadows?”

It’s been almost a week now since his life became a 90’s Hollywood movie and it’s certainly not gotten any more tolerable in the meantime. He spent half the day with his personal trainer yesterday, being silently and then not-so-silently judged by Dotty over his ‘poor form and weak arms’. She also doesn’t clean up after herself when using his kitchen, which drives him absolutely crazy after only a couple of days with her.

He never thought he’d say it but he much prefers Callum’s company. Granted, he always looks like he doesn’t know how to have fun or think about anything other than work, but at least he’s neat and professional. Even if eating dinner with him is more like a silent movie than a riveting theatre performance.

“What do you think? I can’t go anywhere without them following me. And they’re all either stuffy and serious or just plain rude.”

The bed sheets rustle as Ben sits up against the headboard, taking off his glasses with one hand only to run the other over his eyes. He has retreated to the comfort of his bedroom after yet another mostly silent dinner with Callum at the other side of the dining table. Only watching TV had soon become too boring so he found himself calling Jay to complain, yet again, about his current situation. When he had only told Ben to suck it up and take it a bit more seriously, he thought he’d try his luck with Lola.

He has complained about them before to her as well, especially about Callum and his ever-present frown of professionalism. That chat after his team had taken residence in his home still remains the only time he’s seen a smile on the man’s face.

But just like all the times before, Lola only laughs in his ear; always far too happy about the misfortunes of his life. They’re good friends, not just because they had one awkward rump ten years ago and managed to have a child together because of that, but because they genuinely care for each other. It hasn’t been easy and Ben’s job still creates a lot of friction between them when it comes to Lexi and how they think she should be parented by both of them. But they’re trying their best to put Lexi first. 

Ben is trying his best.

He wants to give her the world and everything she could ever ask for. It’s just a shame that it comes with being away from her for months at a time, only being able to see her on a phone or laptop screen, and missing out on parents evening or dance recitals in the process.

“Try not to fall in love with one of ‘em, Whitney Houston.”

“Haha. I made a Bodyguard joke already, alright. Besides, I don’t think Callum is even programmed to feel enough human emotions for love.”

Ben notices too late that he just equated falling in love with one of them to none other than Callum of all people - completely unprovoked. A person he can’t even stand really. A person whose sheer presence in his home annoys him after only a few days already. A person that’s so far out of the realm of possibility when it comes to romantic attraction for Ben.

Thankfully, Lola takes pity on him, obviously choosing to ignore his little slip up because she just continues their earlier conversation, though her voice carries more amusement in it than before.

Ben doesn’t think he could even elaborate on why Callum was the first person he thought of at that joke; doesn’t want to even if he could.

“So you’re still coming to your mum’s dinner Friday?”

“I think she’ll be the one to kill me if I don’t.”

Friday’s dinner is something like a staple in the Beale/Mitchell/Pearce family, has been for years now, and he’s expected to come whenever he’s not off shooting a movie. It’s the one evening a month where everyone in their family gets together at one big table and spends time with each other, whether they actually want to or not.

Apparently, even receiving death threats and being equipped with a barrage of security doesn’t seem to be a worthy enough excuse to miss it. His mum made sure to remind him of that in their phone call earlier this week. So did his dad, who normally only attends to keep his mum from complaining and to assure that he sees Ben as well when he isn’t working.

Unfortunately, Callum is scheduled to be his guard dog on Friday which means he’ll have to take the guy with him to see his family, to meet his daughter. He doesn’t know if Ruby told the man about Lexi, he hasn’t mentioned anything pertaining to that yet, but it feels weird introducing him to his family, even if it’s just as someone who’s keeping him safe.

He has always tried hard to keep that aspect of his life hidden away from the public and the press and bringing a stranger into his family’s home feels oddly invading.

“Your daughter can’t wait to see you, you know. She wants to know all about your new friends.”

Ben rolls his eyes but he can’t help but feel pleased about seeing Lexi again. In fact, he can’t really wait for it; he’s completely desperate for the next couple of days to go by until it’s finally Friday. He hasn’t been able to really see her yet since coming back from shooting his last movie, too swamped with PR events and post-production things for the film, and he’s more than looking forward to finally wrapping her in his arms again and not letting her go for the entire evening.

The day can’t come soon enough.

 

*****

 

Callum isn’t exactly happy to hear about his plans to see his family, grumbling about the huge security threat it poses, but he ultimately agrees to come with Ben after he threatens to sneak out and go there without any security, should Callum not let him.

It’s how he finds himself in the living room of his mum’s house, his daughter sitting in his lap and Callum awkwardly standing off to the side. His mum is in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on their dinner with Lola fruitlessly trying to get Callum to join them. He refused until now but it’s obvious he’s struggling to stay composed under Lola’s pestering.

She’s always been good at that, annoying people to get what she wants. And apparently, right now she really wants his bodyguard to join their family dinner. It’s incredibly funny to see the man so flustered about being invited to a dinner with some strangers; there’s a pink flush high on his cheeks and he’s suddenly developed a light stutter Ben has noted.

Lola actually squeals in delight when Callum finally relents, sitting down at the table between Ben and Lexi, shrugging out of his suit jacket and putting it on the backrest of his chair. Ben is momentarily transfixed by the way he rolls up his sleeves and exposes his strong forearms but he tries to shake it off just as fast again. It’s just been a while since he’s gone out on the pull, okay.

Their dinner is great. Callum is as professional as ever but he’s more relaxed than Ben’s ever seen him and it’s fascinating to hear him talk a bit about his personal life. Ben never entertained the thought that Callum must have a life outside of his job but he does. He’s from the East End as well and spent most of his adult life in the Army before joining the company he now works for.

He remains tightlipped about any potential girlfriend or family he might have, even after his mum makes a joke about Callum having to be here rather than with his own family tonight, but Ben thinks there must be more to that from the way Callum lights up around Lexi, answering her questions about his job as best as he can without frightening her. She doesn’t really understand why Ben needs protection yet and they’re trying to keep it that way, not wanting to scare her too much. All she knows is Callum is here to protect her dad.

Callum almost seems sad when it’s time to drive home again, bidding goodbye to Ben’s mother and promising her to protect Ben as best as he can. Ben can tell he’s getting a bit overwhelmed at her pulling him into a hug in response to his promise and his arms seem to hesitate at his side before coming up to pet her back twice, the same flustered look on his face when Callum shakes his dad’s hand in his own way of showing gratitude afterwards.

It’s oddly reminiscent of them meeting his first ever serious boyfriend way back when and that thought alone is way too much to think about for Ben after three full glasses of wine. Not that he in any way equates Callum to an old boyfriend of his, or any type of boyfriend at all for that matter.

Callum seems quiet and in thought for most of the car ride back home, at times drumming his thumb on the steering wheel with nervous energy. It’s only when they’re almost back at the house that he speaks up again, voice quiet and controlled.

“I didn’t know you had a daughter before I took this job, you know. I’ve never seen it reported somewhere before.”

“Oh, a fan, are ya?”

It’s supposed to be nothing more than some light teasing but there’s some real curiosity there. It’s been on his mind ever since they met, where Callum showed no recognition at seeing him, for nothing but his own selfish reasons. For some reason, the thought of Callum watching his movies, maybe even being a bit of a fan, makes his body feel all warm.

“Let’s just say I was aware of you.”

Ben smiles to himself, turning his head to face the window so Callum doesn’t see in case he were to look over at him. He has to admit that Callum isn’t as bad as he first had assumed; he’s soft spoken and funny in a dry way and yeah, he isn’t that bad to look at. Not that Ben really cares, he doesn’t. It’s just an unbiased observation.

“We try to keep her out of the public eye. She’s just a kid, she didn’t choose my career, you know. If she wants to be known later in life it’s fine, but that’s her decision to make.”

Callum doesn’t answer immediately so Ben chances a quick look at him in the driver’s seat. There’s a soft smile on his face and he darts a glance over to Ben for a second when they enter a straight stretch of road, their eyes meeting for only the briefest moment.

“That’s a nice sentiment. Not many parents accept their kids’ right to choose or let them be themselves.”

Ben feels like there’s more to his answer, like he’s maybe speaking from experience and he appreciates his honesty even more for that. Hearing that he’s doing well as a parent is always nice.

“Just trying to do what’s best for her, really.”

“I can tell. You, uh, you have a great family.”

He doesn't know what to say to that, to all this unprecedented honesty and emotion coming from Callum all of a sudden. This whole thinly hidden vulnerability is making his head spin. Or maybe it’s the wine doing that.

Ben is still thinking about what to say back; he desperately wants to be open and honest to Callum as well, reward his olive branch to Ben with one of his own. Before he can even say anything though, they’re turning onto his driveway, one of Callum’s colleagues already there to update Callum and his easy attitude is immediately replaced by the stony professionalism Ben has come to know from him.

He isn’t disappointed about it. Not at all.

 

*****

 

Three weeks into his protection Callum sits him down and tells him they’ve received another threat. This time the person included pictures of him on set and while they’re older images from about a month ago, it still worries Callum.

“It means whoever is doing this is slowly escalating their threats; taking it a step further.”

Callum hasn’t told him in detail what the letter contained, only showed him the pictures after Ben almost begged him to. He also told him that they unfortunately couldn’t trace the letter back to whoever sent it, much like the rest of the threats he’d received until now. Whoever is trying to torment him, they’re smart enough not to leave a paper trail.

“Sounds bad.”

He can’t deny it; it’s starting to unsettle him now, if only because it seems to put Callum on edge as well. He immediately ordered another thorough perimeter search after he got the call about the new letter this morning and he has looked strained ever since.

“It doesn’t have to be. Hopefully, we’ll apprehend them before anything more serious happens.”

“And if you don’t?”

Ben doesn’t want to pose the question, doesn’t even want to put that thought out into the universe, but it’s a possibility they should discuss, right?

He has never thought about any other outcome than the best possible one and while he still doesn’t think whoever is sending these letters is seriously out for his life, he must admit that the uncertainty is starting to wear him down. Maybe he is wrong in taking this lighter than seemingly everyone around him.

“I’m positive we will. Try to leave the worrying to me, yeah.”

Ben nods, accepting Callum’s reassurance for now. There’s still a slight unease in the pit of his stomach, similar to that swooping feeling you get right before you walk into an audition, but he’s choosing to trust Callum on this. Trusting someone else, someone that isn’t closest family, is still rather foreign to Ben but he’ll have to for this one.

He just hopes it’s going to be worth it.

 

The house is almost eerily quiet when Ben wanders down later that day after doing some research for his next role, only the slight hum of the bees flying outside and some birds chirping in the distance audible through the opened windows upstairs. He’s trying to distract himself from the news earlier but his stomach grumbling ripped him out of the zone he had found himself in, so he wandered downstairs to make himself something to eat, debating whether he should ask Callum if he wants something as well.

He stops on his way to the kitchen when he notices Callum sitting in one of the wicker chairs in the conservatory and staring out over the lawn, a cup of tea standing discarded on the little side table next to him. The sun is slowly setting in the sky, bathing the room in that golden light Ben loves to see so much, and outside the water in the crystal blue pool is making subtle waves.

Ben knows he should leave Callum to it and not bother him but there’s something in his head telling him to go and talk to him, to make sure everything’s alright. It’s almost like an invisible draw, a little voice inside of him, carrying him across the dining room and into the conservatory, letting himself fall into the chair on the other side of the little table.

“I know you said to leave the worrying to you but it looks like you’re taking that a bit too literally.”

The remark is worth it for the small smile it brings to Callum’s face, his head shaking slightly while his eyes are downcast. Ben has noticed him doing that a lot when something amuses him, his head tilting down as if to hide his smile. Ben doesn’t want him to hide it. 

Callum doesn’t give a retort but his shoulders lose a small amount of tension, drooping down ever so slightly. Ben takes it as an invitation to keep talking, not really thinking about what he’s saying but letting it flow freely from his chest, from his heart.

“This is my favorite room in the house, you know. When I bought it, I thought living here alone would feel lonely, even though I’m away for work like a third of the year anyway. Sometimes it does but not in this room. In here you just feel warm. Safe.”

The last word gets Callum to look over at him, eyebrows etching together. Ben reckons it says a lot about what kind of person Callum is that he immediately worries about someone else, pushing his own worry aside at the possible thought that Ben could feel unsafe now. Like that particular feeling is suddenly the most important thing for him.

“You are safe, Ben. I promise you that.”

Ben knows that’s not a thing Callum can promise, not entirely anyway, no matter how good he is at his job. And he probably should know better than to do just that, but right now Ben is glad he’s doing it. It’s what he needs to hear most.

“Easy to say when it’s not your life being threatened.”

“It always feels like it is though.”

Ben regards him for a moment; the way the sunlight paints him in an almost golden light and how bright his eyes are, like a tropical ocean you desperately want to take a dive in. He’s seen bodies of water in the most beautiful places on earth that weren't as pretty as them.

He believes every word Callum says; trusts that there’s a heap of empathy underneath the cool demeanor he carries himself with most of the time. He’s so much more than Ben first gave him credit for and that fact alone tells him Callum’s a good person. A person that cares for people and just wants the best for them.

Which, Ben must admit, makes him perfect for his job after all.

Even without the bulging muscles.

“I think that just means you’re really good at your job. I know you are.”

Ben doesn’t give him a chance to reply. He gets up from his chair the moment Callum looks over at him with open-mouthed surprise evident on his face and resumes his quest for food. Maybe he just said too much, let Callum see a bit too much of the Ben he tries to hide most of the time, but he can’t really regret it, not when he thinks of the way Callum’s face had changed just now.

If what he said gives comfort to Callum the way he’s trying to give that to Ben most of the time now, then it’s worth any embarrassment he might feel about it later on.

He knows it’s worth it.

 

*****

 

“So? You still want them all sacked?”

Ben sinks back into the leather chair situated at the other side of Ruby’s big, mahogany desk, rolling his eyes at his agent. She already knows the answer to that, of course she does, and he doesn’t really want to give her the satisfaction of admitting he was wrong about Callum and his team, but the first month of their contract is over and he’s here to discuss the future of this whole endeavor. Among other things.

Dotty is waiting outside the door for him, begrudgingly letting him go into the office without her after Ruby carefully reminded her that she’s the one that hired them in the first place. Say what you want about her but she takes her job seriously. A fact Ben is very thankful for.

“Okay. Maybe my assessment was a tad rushed. No need to rub it in, yeah.”

Ruby lets out a cackle at that and Ben already knows she’s not going to let him forget about this for a long time. Maybe ever. It’s alright though, it’s how their years-long friendship works - a well blended mix of teasing and unwavering trust.

“Do you feel protected enough?”

Ben thinks back to the chat he had with Callum in the conservatory over a week ago at this point; to the determination on his face when he had promised Ben that he’s safe, to the set line of his mouth. He does feel protected, not just because his home is decked out in security cameras and his team of bodyguards do their best to pre-scan every venue he visits, from supermarkets to this office building, but also because Callum is a calming presence whenever he’s around, dousing any flame of doubt or fear that could settle in Ben’s mind.

So yeah, the answer to that question is clear to him; it lies on the tip of his tongue, ready to tumble out of his mouth almost immediately. He waits a moment to answer though for fear of appearing too eager, even though he isn’t sure why that should bother him after all.

“I do.”

Ruby looks pleased at that, obviously happy that he’s taking this whole situation a bit more serious now. Ben still thinks she’s worrying too much about it considering nothing grave has happened to him until now but he isn’t about to bring that up, knowing that she’s just gonna lecture him about having to stay alert and careful.

“Good. Means I don’t have to find you new security. Mr. Highway must have done a good job in order to convince you to keep him on. And his team of course.”

There’s an undertone in her voice, almost like she’s expecting to hear some juicy new gossip from him. Ben doesn’t know what to say because there is nothing to say. He can’t pinpoint what changed for him in the last couple of weeks or if there’s anything Callum or anyone else in his team did or said that changed his mind about them, about this. It almost happened like a steady flow; a slow shift that occurred and swept over him in increments.

No big gesture, no one word that caused a change of heart. Just someone who listened and who he listened to in return.

“It’s not like that, Rubes.”

“I’m just saying, I’d understand. He’s fit.”

Okay, yeah, Ben can’t really dispute that. All he has to do is think back to the way Callum looked bathed in the orange hues of the setting sun to admit that he’s a good-looking bloke, gorgeous even. But that’s not important; Callum is there to protect him from a maniac not for him to lust over.

He isn’t Ben’s type anyway and he’s probably not even into men. This whole conversation is needless to have as far as he’s concerned - he’s his bodyguard, nothing more nothing less.

“Why are we even talking about this? He’s probably straight anyway.”

“Oh, he isn’t.”

Ruby is so blasé about it that it makes Ben zero in on her, eyebrows knitting together in surprise. Ruby looks so pleased at herself for telling him that fact as well, not in a malicious way but still teasing, like she’s exceptionally happy to give Ben that particular set of information to carry around with him from now on. She really is just as bad as Ben.

“And how would you know that?”

“I have my ways. You really think I don’t vet the people I let closest to you thoroughly?”

Ben doesn’t even want to ask, doesn’t even want to know. His agent has a rather impressive web of sources and informants all over the city, a fact that comes in handy when it comes to getting Ben at the top of casting sheets and in the minds of directors and producers, even if his success and reputation mostly speak for themselves at this point. Apparently, it also helps with finding out potential sexualities.

“He’s still my bodyguard. And anyway, I don’t think about him that way.”

It’s true. In the weeks he’s known Callum he hasn’t thought any untoward thoughts about him, not really. Sure, sometimes he wonders what he’s doing when he’s lying in bed in the room next door and he certainly has noticed some prominent features like Callum’s big hands or nice arms, but it’s never intended to be dirty.

Not too dirty anyway.

“And there will be a time when he’s not anymore. Besides, since when do you care about any moral dilemma when it comes to hookups. I’m the one keeping them all under wraps, remember?”

He’s about to snap that Callum is worth more than a hookup but he stops himself immediately. He doesn’t know where this urge to defend the man’s honor comes from; this need to make sure his agent doesn’t think anything bad or less than professional about Callum.

All he knows is that it’s ill-placed and inappropriate, not to mention not at all necessary.

He doesn’t want to talk about any insinuation of feelings or something more primal than that. Not if they’re supposed to be about someone he has to see every two days for however long still. Callum is only there to protect him and turning this into anything it’s not would do neither of them any good. Ben doesn’t need these thoughts in his brain, distracting him from more important things and tainting a perfectly fine, perfectly professional, relationship.

“Can we please just talk about the interview now?”

Ruby regards him for a moment like she wants to continue their conversation anyway but she ultimately relents, sighing and turning in her chair to get closer to her computer. It’s her own personal sign that the chatting is over and the business talk starts now and Ben lets out a slight breath at the sight of it, thankful for the distraction.

The last thing he wants to continue thinking about is Callum and the fact that he’s apparently not as straight as Ben had assumed.

“Fine. But I know you, Ben. You want that man.”

 

*****

 

Ben is exhausted when he climbs out of his car later that evening. His meeting with Ruby has overrun by almost two hours; apparently, there are a lot of questions she wants him to avoid and one’s she wants very specific answers from him for, mostly dealing with the rumors about why he suddenly has a team of bodyguards flocking around him.

He has pages upon pages of notes to work through before his TV appearance in three days and he really just wants to take a long nap, maybe use the jacuzzi in the main bathroom to unwind. Dotty is walking next to him grumbling about finally being able to go home as soon as she debriefs with Callum, who stayed in the house to coordinate something today - Ben isn’t exactly sure what but he thinks it has to do with securing the area around the Television Centre, where his interview is taking place.

When he steps through the front door though, he soon realizes that his plans for a nice, quiet evening are pretty much thwarted. There’s the low hum of music coming from the back of the house, something he instantly recognizes as Little Mix because his daughter has an obsession with them, mixed with two excited voices mingling together, laughing every once in a while.

It takes a second to register in his brain, his head still muddled from all the business talk he had to wade through in the last couple of hours, but when he does he instantly remembers that Lexi is supposed to spend the night at his tonight, something he and Lola had discussed earlier this week.

It almost feels like that happened in an alternate universe; there’s so much happening in his life at the moment that dates and appointments start to blend together in front of his eyes. He just hopes she isn’t mad at him for being so late.

The scene that greets him and Dotty when they make their way to the kitchen stops Ben in his tracks, mouth dropping slightly open at what’s in front of him.

On the opposite side of the kitchen island, next to the stovetop, are Lexi and Callum. There are two pots boiling away on the stove and vegetables and a cutting board in front of Callum on the marble counter. Lexi is perched on her knees on one of the barstools that’s been pulled up to the counter, giggling at Callum beside her.

The man in question is swaying his hips from side to side to the music playing from the stereo in the background with a bright smile on his face, looking down at Lexi intently.

“No, Callum, you got to move your hips more.”

“Like this?”

He’s exaggerating his movements now, shaking his hips from right to left just to wretch a loud laugh from Lexi, joining in when she lets out a shrill ‘No’ in-between all the giggles.

Ben’s heart is hammering in his chest, deafening the rest of the room around him, his throat clogging up at this scene in front of him that comes straight out of his deepest secret fantasies. Lexi appears to be completely comfortable around Callum, being playful with him in a way she usually only is with her family and close friends.

There’s an energy thrumming in his veins at seeing Callum so open and light-hearted with his daughter as well, singing in a terrible off tune and entertaining her without a second thought. It feels like something he shouldn’t see, if it weren’t for the fact this is happening in his house with his kid.

“I take things I never thought I’d see for 500.”

Dotty’s voice next to him rips not only Ben but also Callum out of their bubble. Callum turns around in a flash, face panic-stricken all of a sudden once his eyes settle on Ben and Dotty still standing awkwardly in the arch to his kitchen. He looks back at Lexi for a second, who looks confused at their interruption but happy to see Ben, before looking back, wiping his hands on his suit pants. Ben notices while he’s doing it that his sleeves are rolled up again, his suit jacket missing entirely.

“I, I’m sorry, I hope I didn’t overstep. Just- Lola dropped her off and you weren’t home yet. She was watching a movie but then she said she was hungry and I just- I’m very sorry.”

“No. No, no, it’s alright. I’m sorry I got held up. I don’t mind, thank you.”

They’re just staring at each other for a long moment, Callum slowly losing some of the fear that’s still etched on his face and Ben trying to fight through the amazement he suddenly feels. Callum has a look, a shine, in his eyes that makes Ben pause and just look at him, taking in the picture of him in his kitchen next to his daughter.

“Well. Now that everything's alright and we’re all sorry I’m gonna go home before the UST in this room suffocates me. Callum?”

This seems to shake Callum out of whatever stupor he found himself in just now, taking a second to say goodbye to Lexi before he steps forward to follow Dotty out of the kitchen. Ben can’t help but follow his movements with his eyes, roaming over the expanse of his back and the way his dress shirt stretches over it when he squeezes past Ben into the hallway.

He wants to do or say something, even though he isn’t completely sure what, but he’s interrupted by Lexi calling out to him from her place on the barstool.

“Daddy, can you help me finish cooking now?”

He decides it’s better to forget about whatever just happened here and focus on his daughter and making her some dinner.

This thing in his chest when it comes to Callum is dangerous and too complicated to follow up with; it has bad idea written all over it. Besides, he isn’t interested in him like that. His life isn’t cut out for a relationship and hooking up with someone in your entourage is never a good idea. He’ll just have to go out once it’s safe for him to do so, get any lingering thoughts out of his head.

Somehow, he finds it very hard to convince himself of all that.

 

*****

 

Traffic in London is a nightmare as usual. Ben sometimes forgets about it after years of living on the outskirts of the greater metropolitan area and only really driving into the city himself to go to Walford. Next to him, Callum doesn’t seem too fazed by it, drumming his thumb against the steering wheel to the beat of whatever song is currently playing on the radio.

They’re in one of two SUVs, Callum and him, with the rest of Callum’s immediate team following them in the other. He hasn’t been alone with Callum since his little babysitting slash cooking session with Lexi the other day, sticking to Dotty’s company instead, who unfortunately has started humming songs from the Bodyguard soundtrack under her breath whenever she’s around Ben now. He chooses not to comment on it.

He’s been trying to put some distance between himself and Callum, for his own sake, and riding in a car alone with the man wasn’t really part of the plan. But, it’s hard to avoid your main source of protection. And Callum has made it clear before that he’s the one accompanying him up close to any public events.

He’s been thinking about the feelings slowly brewing in his chest - in-between his tries to forget about the whole thing completely - more importantly, if he’s maybe just imagining them because Callum is protecting him. He knows that it’s a thing that happens; where you start to imagine having feelings for someone because they make you feel safe. He played a role once whose love interest did that - though they ended up together anyways.

It’s still a possibility though.

But he can’t seem to stop thinking about the bright smile Callum had on his face while he was goofing around with Lexi in Ben’s kitchen. He looked so happy and carefree and that knowledge alone makes something fierce settle in his heart. Something akin to longing maybe.

Longing for a future he’s always denied himself to have; a future he thought wasn’t for him and his career choices anyway. A longing for the life he always wanted for his little girl. That he secretly always wanted for himself as well.

“Can I ask you a personal question?”

His voice cutting through the pop song filling the car visibly startles Callum, who’s throwing a brief glance towards him before focussing on the road before him again - doesn’t matter how slowly they’re moving ahead right now apparently.

“Okay.”

“Do you have kids? It’s just that you were really great with Lexi the other day so I was wondering.”

Ben can see Callum’s hands on the steering wheel tightening for a moment, his knuckles turning white against the leather. His mouth turns into a thin line and Ben is just about to apologize for crossing a line and overstepping, prying when Callum has always made sure to never mention his private life on the job, when Callum speaks up, voice controlled and quiet.

“No, I don't. I have two nieces though; they’re both younger than Lexi. I think I might want one in the future. It just never worked out for me that way, I guess.”

Ben can’t tell if there’s sadness in his voice or if it’s something else; maybe a longing similar to the one spreading in his own chest. Callum has never mentioned anyone waiting for him at his home, not like Dotty or Lee have, and that coupled with Ruby mentioning that he maybe isn’t straight gives Ben a good idea why it never really happened for Callum.

“The job probably doesn’t help, right?”

Callum gives a slight nod, eyes still trained on the cars in front of them. His voice is lighter when he speaks next, though there’s still some lingering bleakness there.

“Not really. It’s hard finding a partner that accepts me being gone most of the time. It’s not really a good selling point for most men on the first date.”

He doesn’t think Callum even realizes what he just said; that he just confirmed he’s into men to Ben. It makes a careful, small smile break out on his face because it means that Callum is comfortable enough around him to be himself, to not care about what he says or what he reveals. Ben knows how monumental it is to have that kind of trust and security with someone you haven’t known for that long yet.

He feels honored that Callum entrusts him with this information so freely.

“Well, let me tell you that already having a kid is also not the best trait according to many, many men.”

Ben has always been very vocal about being gay; has been out even before he really started his career. It hasn’t done him much damage, Ruby makes sure of that. Be it in vetting every producer and director for any past scandals involving homophobia or keeping his various sexual encounters out of the public eye.

Being a famous movie star definitely has its perks when it comes to picking up men in clubs or at after parties, but it also comes with the price that none of these men are ever really interested in him in the end - it’s always either money or meaningless sex they’re after.

He doesn’t even want a serious relationship - at least he thought he didn’t - but even if he did, none of the men he usually goes for would be suited for any deeper feelings. They either go when the deed is done or when they see what else is hiding behind the glitz and glamour of his supposed world; when they find out he’s also a regular guy, not just Ben Mitchell the famous actor.

And they sure as hell wouldn’t get to meet his daughter.

“They don’t even know what they’re missing. Lexi is amazing.”

It brings a wide smile to Ben’s face, hearing that Callum thinks so highly of his little girl. He wants everyone to realize what an amazing kid he’s lucky enough to have. Ben isn’t even sure why it matters so much to him, or rather he tries not to think too much about why it does, but it feels good to know Callum likes her. It makes his hands sweaty and his cheeks heat up just thinking about it.

Ben is about to give a reply when he notices they’re driving past the gates to the Television Centre to get to the back entrance, Callum checking the rearview mirror to see if the other car is still following them. It’s when they’re taking the ramp down to the parking garage that his face changes, eyes narrowing and lines appearing on his forehead.

Gone is the easy atmosphere and the openness from before, within a second Callum’s back to being his professional self. And there’s a tension to him all of a sudden, back straight and fingers tightening against the wheel again, that carries over to Ben as well and suddenly his stomach coils tight in nervous anticipation.

“What’s going on?”

Callum signals the car behind them to wait and stay alert through the rear window, pulling up to the guard station as carefully as possible.

“This isn’t the man I was informed would be on shift.”

It only takes these couple of words to send Ben’s heart into overdrive, his breath becoming labored at the all of a sudden very real danger. It’s probably nothing to worry about too much, at least that’s what he keeps repeating to himself in his head, but the fact that Callum seems concerned about this doesn’t really bode well for Ben right now.

Callum stops the car in front of the gate, only rolling down the window a sliver to catch the man’s eyes over the darkened glass. He has one hand on the steering wheel and one on the center console, where he always keeps his taser when they’re driving. The action alone unsettles Ben; logically he knows that Callum is just trying to be prepared but he’s worried at the thought that Callum even feels like he might need it.

“Alright? Ben Mitchell and his crew, right?”

“I was told a Mister Adams would be here today.”

Ben tries to sink further into his seat, watching the exchange with rapt attention but at the same time trying to make himself smaller; like less of a target maybe. He’s trying desperately to stay calm and collected but it’s hard when Callum’s anxiousness almost feels contagious in the small confounds of the car.

“Yeah, Steve called in sick this morning. I thought Management was gonna send you a mail or something.”

The bloke sounds sincere, at least to Ben’s ears, but Callum’s face doesn’t relax. He signals the guy to wait a second, pushing the button to roll the window back up. He fishes his phone  out of his suit pocket before pressing a button, looking into the rearview mirror for a second until the call seems to connect, his eyes then moving back to carefully watch the guard and his every move.

“Stay alert. And someone please check the background on this guy. We move forward as planned.”

Callum catches his eyes once he hangs up the phone and goes to open the window again to sign them in and something he sees must make him hesitate, because he pauses and turns to face Ben, hand twitching like he wants to reach out and comfort him but ultimately deciding against it, his hand instead falling onto his thigh.

“Hey, everything’s alright. This happens all the time. No need to be worried, okay? Just focus on your interview and remember I’m here.”

Ben only nods, not trusting his voice to stay controlled and unaffected. He doesn’t want to admit it and he doesn’t want to annoy Callum or distract him from his job with something that’s probably nothing but there’s something close to dread settling in his stomach.

He has a bad feeling about this all of a sudden, this one mixup making nervous energy strum through every part of his body. He tries to bite down on it and push it from his mind but the feeling stays, even when they eventually exit the car and he’s escorted into the building.

And he can’t seem to shake it off.

 

*****

 

Ben has what Ruby describes as ‘natural charisma’ in interviews, though his mum likes to call it his ability to bullshit everyone around him. He’s thankful for it today, because it means he can just grin and bear it without anyone realizing he’s more on edge than he’s probably been in his entire life.

The host is as talkative and friendly as ever and Ben finds himself being distracted from today’s events more than once, going through his imaginary script and heaping praise at the movie, his costars and the director. He’s joking and smiling at the cameras, delivering a performance that could very well be worthy of a BAFTA at any other point in time in his humble opinion.

His segment only lasts a couple of minutes though and Ben soon finds himself shaking hands with the host and the producer before being led out the studio and back to the cars again. Callum is beside him, his hand hovering near Ben’s lower back to guide him towards the car. There’s still some tension to him, his back still straight as a ruler, but he seems to have relaxed a fair bit since this morning now that everything was running according to plan again.

Ben has Ruby on the phone, listening to her telling him he did a perfect job with the interview and that the producer of his movie wants him to do more PR stuff before the premiere, when it happens. It doesn’t register for him what’s going on at first; he’s only vaguely paying attention to them exiting the stairwell and stepping into the parking garage, trusting Callum and his team to escort him out of the building.

The volume of the sudden noise is deafening, echoing in the vast space of the garage and reverberating from the concrete walls around them. The noise is so loud it sends a ringing through Ben’s hearing aid, the shrill sound piercing his ears and making him squint his eyes together in reflex.

It can’t last more than a second, the noise soon replaced by a gust of wind hitting the side of his face. It sends a chill down his spine in response, but it too is gone just as quickly as the loud noise was.

It feels like it takes forever for his eyes to understand the scene around him, or maybe it’s his brain struggling to process the images and condense them into something he can make sense of, but all he sees is something silver glistening in front of him; the glint coming from the direction of the exit ramp.

There’s a millisecond where he’s desperately trying to work it out before his brain finally decides to help him out.

A gun.

He’s looking at the barrel of a gun in the distance; the person holding it decked out in black from the glimpse Ben gets before there are strong hands on him and he’s being pushed backwards with a strength that almost knocks him to the ground.

One hand wraps around his waist and presses onto his back, the other coming to rest on his head, tangling in the strands of his formerly perfectly-styled hair. A chest is pressing against his own, pushing him backwards into the stairwell they just exited.

He’s tripping over himself, almost losing his footing as he’s being marched backwards. The heavy metal door stays open for another moment, where all Ben can make out is unclear shouting and the dull sound of footsteps. There’s still a slight ringing in his ear but it becomes clearer by the second, slowly being replaced by all the shouting happening around him. It’s only then he realizes it’s Callum who’s pressed against him and it’s him who’s shouting instructions over his head, all while walking him back towards the second door leading towards the stairwell.

The hand on his back moves and before he really knows it he’s pushed further into the room, the second fire exit door falling shut behind Callum, cutting off the noise in a startling instant. The havoc outside is barely audible now, overpowered by Callum panting above him, his fingers tightening against Ben’s skull.

“Are you alright? Are you hurt?”

Ben tries to shake his head - his brain is still trying to make sense of what just happened and it won’t let him form any coherent words - but Callum’s grip on his head is so strong he can barely move, head still pressed into Callum’s chest.

“Someone just shot at me.”

The words rush out of him in a breathless heap and he can’t stop the tremor in it; he feels like his whole body just started shaking. His limbs feel simultaneously hot and ice cold and he fists his fingers into Callum’s shirt in front of his eyes with desperation.

Ben can’t make sense of the words; it feels like he’s still trying to connect the reality with what his head is telling him just happened. Someone just aimed a gun at him and fired a shot. Someone tried to kill him.

It still won’t connect in his brain but his breathing becomes labored while it slowly registers in his mind.

“You’re alright, you’re alright. They didn’t get to you. We’re dealing with it.”

Ben isn’t sure which one of them Callum’s trying to calm down with that.

Callum’s mouth is pressed against his ear, murmuring a mixture of you’re alright and you’re safe in-between calming hushes. One of his hands is running up and down Ben’s arm and it’s only now that Ben realizes he really is shaking from head to toe.

The sound of knuckles against the heavy door separating them from the room leading into the parking garage makes Ben startle, his fingers knotting deeper in Callum’s dress shirt.

“Callum? The situation is under control. No injuries on our end. Is everything alright in there?”

Ben feels Callum’s body relax against his when they both recognize Dotty’s voice through the door and Callum leans forward to hit the security button next to the heavy frame to unlock it, dislodging Ben’s face from his chest in the process.

The door opens with a click and Dotty comes into view, face like thunder. If she has an opinion on the way Ben’s cowered in the corner with his face and body almost completely hidden in Callum’s body she doesn’t mention it, but there’s also more important things to talk about right now.

“The police are on their way. They got away. I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault, they were shooting at you. You knew Ben was safe with me, you did nothing wrong.”

Dotty nods, letting her gaze wander over to where Ben is still halfway huddled behind Callum. She looks like she wants to say something, her face still full of guilt that Ben wants to ease but doesn’t have the strength to do so right now, but she must decide against that, because the next thing she does is head out again, giving Ben some more space.

Ben feels tears spring into his eyes at her words; his mind solely stuck on the fact that whoever did this managed to get away. A quiet sob rips itself out of his throat on its own volition and the sound makes Callum wrap his arm back around him.

“Hey, it’s alright. I’ll get you home and I’ll keep you safe. I promise, I’ll protect you.”

Ben’s head falls back into Callum’s chest, his hands bunching the shirt underneath his fingers, letting the tears and the fear take hold of him; letting the adrenaline ebb away and leave only exhaustion behind.

He just wants to go home.

 

*****

 

Ben wakes up with a start; the sound of gunshots and screams still ringing in his ears - remnants of a vivid nightmare playing out right before his eyes. He rubs a hand over them in exhaustion, brushing away the ghost of the images lingering there even now that he’s not in the land of the dreaming anymore.

His bedroom is quiet and dark, the expensive curtains doing the most in blocking out the limited light the summer night brings into the room. There’s a slight breeze flowing in through the open window on the other side of the room, the sounds of the nighttime filling his good ear.

Ben turns his head to the side to squint at his phone screen, sighing at the number staring back at him. Just gone three. The glass on his nightstand is empty, as is the bottle of water he keeps under it, and the circumstance provides the perfect opportunity to throw back his blanket and make his way down to the kitchen.

The house is quiet as he trudges down the stairs and through the hallways. There’s no sound coming from the guest rooms currently occupied by Callum’s team, no furniture creaking or light snoring from the current inhabitant. Callum stayed with him tonight even though he wasn’t officially scheduled to. Ben thinks it was an unspoken agreement within the team, because no one had protested when he had announced he would stay at the house tonight.

Ben is thankful he did; just knowing he’s close, is just a door or a shout away loosens something in his chest. Despite everything that happened today and the cold, hard fear that ran through his body, he couldn’t help but feel protected knowing that Callum was willing to shield him from any harm.

He tries not to think about it too hard in the dead silence of the darkened rooms he passes and walks through on his way to the kitchen.

He has always loved this house and how big and open it is; he felt like he finally had room to breathe here. But after today’s events he feels spooked to be up alone in the middle of the night, hyper-aware of every nook and cranny a potential threat could hide in.

He’s never been a fearful person but having a gun fired at him is about to shake up even the bravest bloke, he reckons.

When Ben rounds the corner towards the kitchen he stops at the sight of the french doors leading to the garden propped open, the breeze blowing the light, sheer curtains into the hallway like in some stupid suspense movie. Ben approaches the doors with careful apprehension, cursing himself for not having a weapon at the ready. He has the sudden thought to run back upstairs and wake Callum, but ultimately decides to check first, not wanting to get the man for no reason other than getting scared by a bit of wind and old, rickety doors.

There’s the outline of a figure becoming clearer and clearer the closer Ben gets to the door, crouched over the table on his patio and overlooking the large garden behind the house. Ben’s breath is bated when he takes the final steps towards the window, releasing a long sigh when he recognizes the shadowy outline as none other than Callum perched in one of the garden chairs.

Ben steps over the ledge and onto the patio, the cold from the stones underneath his bare feet stinging despite the warmth still clinging in the air. Callum only gives the smallest of indications that he noticed Ben joining him out here, only glancing up when Ben pulls out the chair next to him and sinks down into it.

“Don’t know how I feel about you just wandering out here in the dark. It could’ve been anyone sitting here, you know.”

There’s no heat behind Callum’s words so Ben doesn’t take the dig personally. In fact, when he takes the time to think about Callum’s words for a moment he can tell he sounds downright exhausted; his voice laden with that sleepy drawl you get when you’re bone-tired and don’t have any energy left in you.

His gaze is still cast to the dark green grass of the lawn sprawled out in front of them and the way he’s shaking his leg up and down beneath the ornate, cast iron table betrays his words and lets Ben know he isn’t actually annoyed at him - he’s worried.

“You left the door wide open and just sat there; not really a thing a killer would do, is it. Besides, it’s not like I can’t recognize you even in the dark.”

Ben conveniently leaves out the fact he was a second away from sprinting back up the stairs to shake Callum out of bed because he thought someone had broken into the house not even five minutes ago, not wanting to make Callum doubt his trust in him or his ability to protect Ben. He would never; not after today.

He’s thankful that Callum doesn’t say anything else, doesn’t call out his thinly-veiled admission that he could somehow make out his primary bodyguard even under the veil of complete darkness, because it gives him some time to take the man in right now; not just how he carries himself or his carefully guarded face, but also something as simple as his appearance.

Callum is wearing jogging bottoms and a snug, black shirt, obviously dressed in his sleeping clothes, and the difference to his usual attire is so stark that Ben almost feels uncomfortable to see him like this. Like this is a side of Callum he shouldn’t be allowed to see. Like it’s something too intimate for the professional relationship they’re supposed to have.

“Do you ever sleep? Don’t know how I feel about my safety, if you don’t.”

It’s not meant to be taken seriously, not after today at least, and it seems like Callum knows that as well, judging by the way the edges of this mouth lift into a humorless laugh at the teasing. His eyes stay trained on the field of grass in front of him though, eyes lidded and eyebrows drawn together.

“Couldn’t sleep.”

Ben wonders if they’re both sleepless for the same reason. He can’t imagine that getting shot at is something Callum experiences regularly, even in his particular line of work. Surely, he is as shaken by today’s events as Ben is.

“Yeah. I know the feeling.”

He can’t help but think back to the incident at the studio. About the fact that he was probably a few centimeters away from not being here anymore. He can’t even begin to seriously consider that outcome.

Callum finally tears his eyes away from the neatly trimmed hedges lining the edges of the property to look over at Ben sitting next to him. There’s genuine concern shining in his blue eyes and it catapults Ben back to earlier that day, to the pure fear and worry that had been evident on his face as he tried to protect Ben from anything happening to him.

It makes his heart beat a bit faster remembering.

“You okay? After everything today?”

If he’s being completely honest, Ben isn’t sure about the answer to that question. It almost feels like someone flipped a switch inside of him, like everything he has taken so lightly until now has come around to hit him full force. He can’t help but hear the ‘I told you so’ swimming around in his head again and again; voices of Ruby, his mum, Lola all intermingling and mixing.

“I don’t know. Until today I kinda still thought everything was just some very cruel prank. It didn’t really sink in that someone actually wants me dead. I mean, I could’ve died today.”

“I wouldn’t have let that happen.”

Callum is quick to reassure him of that, fierce determination burning in his eyes. Ben is taken aback by the intensity of his gaze, like the sheer thought of something like that happening to him is completely out of the question for Callum. Ben appreciates the dedication to his job.

“It very nearly did though.”

The sigh escaping Callum’s lips is weary and heavy, eyes closing at whatever is going on in his head at hearing those words. He scrubs a hand over his eyes, his thumb and forefinger pinching the bridge of his nose. He keeps his eyes closed when he speaks next, almost like he can’t bear to see Ben’s face react to the words.

“I’m aware. Why do you think I can’t sleep? I’ve never failed at protecting a client before and with you- it’s on my mind as well, you know.”

His eyes gradually open again; this time, the heat in his eyes is replaced by something different. Something, Ben can’t quite place. It looks like a mixture of fear and disappointment in himself.

Ben hates seeing it.

“I promise you, I’ll do better.”

The completely misplaced guilt makes Ben shake his head, desperate to convince Callum that he’s not responsible for this. Callum literally shielded him from anything happening, using his own body as a barrier between him and the gunman - there’s no blame falling on him. If anything, Ben is in this mess because of no one but himself - and the person gunning for his death of course.

“I’m not blaming you, Callum. You did protect me. Who knows what would’ve happened if you hadn’t been there at all.”

Except they both know pretty well what would’ve happened, had the person been a better shot, had the projectile not been a few centimeters off, had Callum not reacted so quickly.

It creates a new certainty, a new trust, between both of them. A deep gratefulness on Ben’s part and fierce determination on Callum’s. Ben owes Callum; it doesn’t matter that he was just doing what he’s being paid for.

Ben knows, without a doubt, he owes Callum his life now.

 

*****

 

The attempt shakes something loose in Ben’s chest. It’s like all of a sudden his world has gone off kilter and nothing he does or tries quite manages to realign it with the past. With who he was before someone tried to end his life. It all suddenly became too real, too possible, for his head to process.

It won’t leave his mind, the thought that his daughter could’ve lost her dad, his mom and dad would have lost their son. It feels stupid in hindsight that he never took the threats and letters seriously and now that it’s almost become deadly serious he feels like his whole world is slowly but surely spiraling out of control.

He doesn’t register how much the incident affects him until he notices his hands haven’t stopped shaking all day and he doesn't hear the growling in his stomach until Dotty makes a comment about it in the evening. He isn’t hungry though, hasn’t been for days now, even if his mom goes as far as to send him a package with food to his house.

He’s trying to keep a brave face for her and for the rest of his family, but he can feel the mask slowly slipping further and further out of his grasp.

Ben is thankful that filming for the movie has already wrapped up and that he doesn’t have another project lined up immediately, because the simple thought of leaving the house and going out in public makes sweat gather in his palms and nerves coil hot in his stomach. He doesn’t want to admit he’s scared but it’s getting harder and harder to come up with excuses as to why he isn’t going to see his trainer, or anyone else for that matter.

Callum tries to talk to him about the situation and the dangers of not leaving his house anymore, explaining that it will only make his attacker more determined to find him here, and Dotty tells him not to bury his head in the sand, but it all falls on deaf ears. He isn’t ready and he needs to work through this at his own pace.

It doesn’t help that he can’t take a step in his own house without basically strangers milling around here with him. It sets his teeth on edge and he’s sure he’s not far from exploding. There are too many conflicting emotions bubbling under the surface with no outlet, no one to really share them with, and it threatens to clog up his throat and constrict him from the inside.

It’s almost a week after the futile attempt when Callum falls into the seat opposite of Ben at the dining table, his stupid suit immaculate as always.

“Any plans for the day?”

His voice is free of judgement, eyes bright and sincere. He’s been incredibly open with Ben this past week, talking with him about things like shellshock and how he learned to deal with situations like this in the Army. Ben appreciates his honest concern, he does, and it’s getting increasingly hard to ignore the way his stomach flips every time Callum opens up to him about something from his past.

“Not really.”

Ben is ready for a lecture or advice or something in that direction but it never comes. Instead, Callum gives him a short nod, seemingly content at hearing this.

“Good. I’ll have to run an errand. Dotty will be here with you, the two men outside will do a perimeter search. I’ll come back with two more people that work with me, okay?”

Callum’s voice is calm and controlled but at hearing him say those words, Ben is becoming anything but. He doesn’t understand what they need three more men for all of a sudden and just the thought of it makes Ben’s heart beat faster in a decidedly bad way.

“Why? Was there another threat? What happened?”

Callum darts a hand out to stop him, slowly shaking his head. He almost looks like he’s trying to talk to a skittish animal, like Ben could go off at any moment and he’s trying his best to keep him calm.

“No, Ben. There’s nothing else, I promise. I’ll explain everything when I get back, okay? Please, just trust me.”

Ben can’t explain why exactly, but he knows that he does. Logically, he knows that he trusts Callum because he has to, because he’s here to protect him. But there’s something more, something deeper, that tells him he can trust him.

“Okay. Okay, yeah.”

Callum gives him a small smile, before he gets back up from the table. All Ben can do is watch him leave and hope for the best now. He has never put this much trust in another person, never really let himself, and as scary as it is, it doesn’t feel that weighty anymore. It feels good even if the situation is anything but.

Ben has the distinct feeling it has a lot to do with Callum.

 

*****

 

Ben doesn’t know what to expect when the heavy, wooden door opens again about an hour later, Dotty securing it from the inside. Ben has tried to prepare himself for anything that could happen; whatever it is that Callum has been planning. Ben’s been wringing his hands together ever since he left, observing his colleagues as they canvas the area around Ben’s home. He doesn’t like all these strangers running around on his property, it sends spikes of anxiety through his body even though he knows there’s no way any of them could be his attacker.

Ben is looking over at the door in anticipation, trying to figure out what’s going on by peering through the stained glass on his front door, when a whirlwind of blonde hair and small limbs pushes past Dotty and into the foyer.

“Daddy!”

“Lex?”

Lexi crashes into his arms, wrapping her small arms around his neck when Ben picks her up and spins her around, pressing kiss after kiss into her locks. When he looks over her head back to the front door, he meets Callum’s eyes. He has a soft smile on his face while looking at the two of them, eyes warm and content.

He can’t quite believe that Callum would do this for him; he knows how complicated it is to bring someone else into this situation. It’s dangerous to expose Lexi to all of this - he still remembers Callum saying as much after that family dinner they had together - so he really appreciates Callum going through all this trouble and grief just to put a smile on his face again.

The feelings bubbling up at the thought are too much to handle right now.

He understands now why there’s extra security littering his home; why they’ve searched the house and surroundings so thoroughly - all to protect him and his daughter.

Ben mouths a silent thank you at Callum and his stomach does a somersault when he gets a bright smile in return; one that brings out Callum’s dimples. It’s the best thing he’s ever seen, he’s sure of that.

“I missed you, daddy. Are you still busy with work?”

It’s what he and Lola decided to tell Lexi to explain his sudden absence in her life; he doesn’t want to lie to her but it sounds infinitely better than ‘some person is trying to kill me’. He just hopes she doesn’t resent him for it.

“I am, yeah. I’m sorry about that. But I’m so happy to see you, baby.”

It’s true. He didn’t know how to snap out the mood he was in the last couple of days but it seems like his daughter is the perfect person to get him out of it and it seems like Callum somehow knew that, even before Ben did.

He doesn’t know how to thank him for this, but the pressure, the want , to tell him about all these feelings and thoughts that are slowly but surely growing inside of him keeps getting harder and harder to ignore.

It’s confusing more than anything. Ben’s used to hooking up with men that mean nothing to him but this is different. This is him catching honest and complicated feelings for the man who’s supposed to protect him. The man who hasn’t given him any indication that these feelings might be reciprocated.

He’s trying not to think about it too hard right now, choosing to enjoy the little time with his daughter he’s allowed today.

 

*****

 

“I’ll be right back, princess.”

Ben leaves Lexi on the couch with a kiss pressed to her forehead, completely engrossed in the movie they’ve been watching. He doesn’t want her to go but he knows it’s time for her to be taken back home soon; the longer she’s with him the more dangerous it becomes for her.

He’s on his way to the kitchen when he almost runs into Callum coming downstairs, eyes trained on the phone in his hands. There’s a moment when their eyes meet where they’re just looking at each other and Ben is thrown back to earlier today, with feelings trying to escape his mouth he isn’t ready for yet, let alone sure of.

“I’m in contact with the security for your premiere. If you’re still sure about going, we’ll figure out how to keep you safe there.”

“I am. Thanks.”

Callum nods and moves to turn away from him, obviously satisfied with their brief conversation. Ben isn’t though; there’s this urge burning in him to let Callum know how thankful he is that he brought Lexi here. He needs to tell him.

“Callum?”

He waits until Callum turns to face him again, eyebrows climbing up as he waits for Ben to continue. He doesn’t know why he’s so nervous all of a sudden; he’s just thanking the guy for bringing his daughter over. He has chatted up plenty of guys in the past and he has never been hesitant to do so but the one time he’s just trying to be a decent person to his bloody bodyguard, his pulse is skyrocketing.

“Just thank you for bringing her here. I know it must be a real pain but I really needed this.”

Callum’s expression softens at that, mouth curling into a sweet smile and eyes shining with something Ben’s never consciously seen before in them. Something that makes his heartbeat thrum in his ears.

“No worries. You’re a great dad, Ben. She obviously adores you and it’s clear you’d do anything for her. She’s lucky to have you. I know what’s happening to you is scary, but just think about her and don’t let this guy win and scare you away from the people you love.”

Ben doesn’t know if it’s the little pep talk that does it or if it’s the way Callum’s looking at him right now, like it’s his new mission to make Ben believe in himself again and he won’t rest until he has achieved just that. Whatever it is, it makes Ben take a step forward, one of his hands coming to a tentative stop on Callum’s shirt-clad waist.

He stops right there though, suddenly overcome with the terrible thought that he’s got this all wrong; that he’s making a complete idiot out of himself here because there’s no way Callum’s been having the same feelings he’s had for days now, weeks if he’s being completely honest with himself.

Ben isn’t sure which one of them moves first or if they’re moving in perfect synchronization, but before he can process what’s happening, there are soft lips on his own. Ben lets out a gasp at the feeling, hand curling further into the shirt covering Callum’s side.

The kiss is fairly short. Ben doesn’t want to let him go again so soon but thankfully, he doesn’t go far, only a few centimeters back to look at Ben. He’s a bit mesmerized by the way Callum’s eyes look up close, like a kaleidoscope of ocean blue he’s sure he could get completely lost in.

It must only be a breath they spend looking at each other before diving back in for more, Callum’s big hands coming up to frame Ben’s face, pulling him in. Their lips slide together with a hurry almost foreign to him, Ben’s hands running to his lower back. It’s almost frantic, the want to feel Callum against him burning bright in Ben’s veins.

Callum’s fingers dig into his jaw and the feeling only spurs him on more, desperate to find out just how much strength is hiding under that stupid suit of his. He lets out a sigh, opening his mouth in the hopes of getting Callum to slip his tongue into it, when something disturbs their moment.

Or rather, someone does.

“Daddy? Where’s my juice?”

They break apart on a gasp, scrambling to put some distance between each other. Callum looks shocked, eyes wide and mouth still puffy and red, like he can’t believe he just let himself do this with Ben. He tries not to think about what that means for them, if this is Callum already regretting kissing him. He really hopes he doesn’t, because he wouldn’t mind them repeating what they’ve just done. Thoroughly next time.

Ben turns to face Lexi, watching her walk into the hallway without any knowledge of what she’s just interrupted.

“I’ll get it in a second, yeah? Go back to your movie.”

Lexi walks off with a huff, giving him that eye roll she definitely inherited from him. Normally, he’d tell her off for it but he has the more pressing matter of a six-foot-something bodyguard he just kissed to deal with.

When he turns back to look at Callum though, he finds the man gone, the space previously occupied by him empty with no trace he’s ever been there. It leaves a bad feeling deep in his stomach; this, combined with Callum’s panicked expression moments before makes the anxiety spike in Ben.

The feeling only festers when he doesn’t see Callum for the rest of the day, not even when Lexi has to be taken back to Lola’s, his position in the house instead replaced by Dotty.

It stings more than he’d like to admit.

 

*****

 

He doesn’t see much of Callum for the next few days. Apparently, he’s busy coordinating safety measures for the upcoming film premiere in Leicester Square, but Ben is not buying that excuse when he finally musters up the courage to ask Dotty about his whereabouts. Ben thinks she knows something is up between them, but thankfully she doesn’t comment on it.

It still stings that Callum would just completely ignore him like this after kissing him back, but the hurt he felt the first couple of days is slowly morphing into anger. He’s livid that Callum chose to be a coward instead of being honest and telling Ben that he obviously doesn’t feel the same for Ben. Them having to see each other again is basically inevitable and Ben would rather take the embarrassment of being outright rejected than Callum completely blanking him.

In fact, he doesn’t see Callum at all until the day before the premiere. Ben’s busy cooking dinner for himself and his shadow of the day when Callum strolls into the kitchen like he hasn’t been absent for almost a week. Ben’s trying not to look at him, trying not to give him the satisfaction to see how hurt he is, but his curiosity wins out in the end. Callum looks almost nervous, stubble thicker than Ben’s ever seen it, and he’s doing a bad job at not glancing in Ben’s direction every other moment.

Ben can’t help but roll his eyes when he hears that Callum is back on the security roster, being scheduled to stay here in the house tonight. Of course. He just wanted a quiet evening before his first big public outing since his attack and now having a clear head for his movie premiere seems out of the window. Because there’s no way Ben is going to be calm and relaxed with Callum in the house.

Even if he manages to swallow his anger and not confront Callum about his behavior.

“The pasta was great.”

It’s the first thing Callum has said to him since arriving for his shift earlier today. Ben had set out a plate for him when he was done in an unspoken invitation for Callum to get some food as well, because even though he’s pissed at Callum, he still doesn’t want him to be hungry here. His forgiveness doesn’t go very far though, made obvious to Callum by the way he had taken his plate to eat somewhere else when Callum had joined him at the patio table outside.

It’s childish and petty, Ben knows that, but he’s more than hurt by Callum’s behavior these last few days and he’s not in the mood to make awkward small talk with him right now.

He doesn’t understand. He had kissed Ben back and all he’s gotten from him since then is silence and avoidance. It hurts, because Ben foolishly had thought they maybe had a shot at something together. He wanted them to have something.

Apparently, he had been wrong.

“Now you’re talking to me? About fucking pasta?”

They’re standing in Ben’s kitchen on different sides of the kitchen island, the white marble serving as a divider to keep them apart. It feels like some strange symbolism for the chasm between them. One, that Ben isn’t sure they can overcome again.

“Ben, please. Don’t-”

“What? Make you acknowledge what happened between us? Talk about how you kissed me and then ignored me after that like nothing happened, making me feel stupid and so fucking angry?”

“I’m sorry, okay. It shouldn’t have happened.”

Hearing it confirmed that Callum thinks of their kiss as a mistake sends pinpricks of hurt to his heart. He tries to swallow it down though, not ready to let Callum know that he just hit bullseye on all his hidden insecurities.

“Yeah, you made that pretty clear with your little disappearing act.”

Callum closes his eyes at that, almost looking like he regrets doing exactly that for days on end. Good. Ben hopes he does.

“Ben, please. It’s unprofessional and dangerous to get involved with a client. It only complicates things.”

“Complic- Wow. You kissed me back , Callum.”

Callum moves to walk around the kitchen island over to Ben’s side but Ben takes a few steps backwards, not allowing the space between them to lessen quite yet. He’s furious now; fueled by Callum’s attempts to explain this away like he didn’t press his lips against Ben’s with just as much fervor as Ben did.

“It makes you more vulnerable. Hell, it makes me vulnerable. It’s a distraction we can’t afford. I’m just trying to keep you safe.”

He’s done with this conversation. He might as well leave now before he says something that damages their work relationship even further. That is, if they even manage to salvage the one they have and can continue working with each other.

“Fine. You could’ve just said you don’t want me.”

“You really think I don’t?”

Ben looks back up into Callum’s eyes and what he finds there surprises him. Callum almost looks pained, like he’s trying to fight against his feelings but finds it increasingly difficult to do so. Ben can relate. He doesn't want to pretend he hasn’t developed feelings for Callum anymore, because he has. And judging from what Callum is saying, he has as well.

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to think anymore, Callum.”

“God, I think about you all the time, Ben. Not just because I’m meant to protect you but because you never leave my mind, not for a second. I wish we could’ve met under different circumstances and I wish I could be in your life even when all of this is over somehow. Fuck, Ben, you’re in my head and in my heart and I can’t get you out. I don’t know what I’m doing anymore, alright?”

Ben is rooted to the spot, staring at Callum in open amazement. He doesn’t know what to say to all of that; doesn’t know what to do with Callum spilling his feelings for him like this. He should be over the moon; should be excited about the prospect that they’re feeling the same about each other.

But all he feels is want.

It’s overpowering, clouding his brain and leaving no room for anything other than heat exploding in his body. His hands are itching to reach out and fold themselves into Callum’s clothes, his skin. It’s too much to handle; everything feels muddled and numb, zeroed down to the need taking over every extremity.

He crosses the space between them in three long strides, not wasting any time before sealing their lips together. Callum lets out a low whine when their mouths find each other again, like he’s missed the contact even though they only felt it once before. His hands run down Ben’s chest and onto the fabric covering his sides, settling and squeezing the skin underneath.

Ben opens his mouth on a moan and finally, finally, gets to feel Callum’s tongue against his own as they brush against each other. His own hands run up into Callum’s hair, tearing into it like he’s wanted to do for so long, leaving the strands to stand up messily. He rakes his nails over the skin on Callum’s nape, causing a hiss tumbling out of his mouth.

His hands move under the fabric of Callum’s black suit jacket, tugging until he gets it off his shoulders and down onto the wooded kitchen floor. The movement seems to make Callum even more desperate than before; like maybe he needed the unspoken confirmation that Ben wants to take this even further to really let loose. Because the next thing Ben takes note of are Callum’s hands running down his sides and to his thighs, lifting him up onto the marble countertop in one swift haul.

Ben lets out a desperate moan at the action, red-hot fire burning in his veins. His legs snake around Callum’s waist, ankles crossing over the swell of his ass. Their mouths find each other for another moment before Callum starts trailing his lips over Ben’s jaw and down onto his neck. He’s mindful of leaving any visible marks, the premiere tomorrow probably still hanging in the back of his mind, and Ben is equally thankful and disappointed about it. He wouldn’t mind Callum taking his skin between his teeth and working it until it’s red and throbbing.

He lets Callum’s mouth trail lower and lower, tongue running over the skin around his collarbone when he moves the collar of Ben’s shirt out of the way. For someone previously so adamant their last kiss was a mistake, he’s pressing kisses to Ben’s neck with fierce intent. Ben is panting above him, tugging him back up to him when it all becomes too much, too good, to press their lips back together.

His hands find the buttons of Callum’s pristine, white shirt while their tongues tangle together again, opening them and letting the shirt fall open, warm skin welcoming his wandering hands. He’s about to go for Callum’s belt when his hands are stopped by Callum’s own wrapping around them, effectively halting his actions.

Ben is about to warn him that he better not change his mind about them again - not when they’re so close to finally giving into the feelings that have been building between them for the last couple of months together - when his protests are silenced before he can even voice them by the obvious fire in Callum’s eyes, pupils blown wide in arousal and lips kiss-bitten and red.

“Bed?”

His voice is raspy and shaky, his own want clearly audible in this one word alone, and it sends a shiver down Ben’s spine to know that he’s the one responsible for that.

“Hurry then. I want you now.”

Callum lifts him up off the counter with all that hidden strength Ben has always wondered about and all he can do is hold on tight while they make their way through the downstairs and up the grand staircase.

They do take their time finding their way to the bedroom, mostly because Callum keeps pressing them against every available wall in the house to kiss him some more - his stylist is definitely going to curse him for the swollen lips tomorrow.

Right now though that’s the furthest thing on his mind as Callum lowers him backwards onto the bed, crawling onto him with kisses pressed onto every patch of exposed skin on his way. He shrugs out of his shirt and throws it somewhere to the side, the rest of both sets of clothing swiftly following.

Ben pulls him back on top of him once they’re both naked, needing the press of skin on skin and the feel of flesh under his hands. Their mouths find each other again while their hands are exploring each other’s bodies, running over backs and chests and thighs.

All that smooth skin under his palms is exhilarating to Ben; he can’t decide what or where to lay hands on first, everything about Callum seems too inviting to him to choose. Callum shifts in his arms, perfectly aligning their dicks in the process, ripping a low moan from Ben’s mouth.

It feels almost impossible how much he wants him.

Callum’s hand travels down his body, down his pecs and over the smooth skin beneath his navel, before he takes hold of Ben’s cock, determined to stroke him to full hardness. Ben can’t hold back the guttural moan coming out of his mouth at the first contact and he tips his head back into the pillows in response, closing his eyes while he lets the feeling of Callum sliding his fist up and down wash over him.

There’s so much heat spreading through his body it almost feels like a fever, little tremors shocking his lower half minutely. Callum runs his thumb along the slit while trawling kisses along his neck and the feeling of it all is so fucking good, Ben almost thinks about letting Callum get him off like this.

But he wants more, he needs more, and there’s that little voice in his head screaming not enough.

Ben nudges his nose against Callum’s head, pulling his face back up to his own, taking in the awed smile dancing over his features. There’s a moment where they’re just looking at each other, Callum’s hand slowing down to an almost torturous pace, and yeah, Ben is ready to let this man get lost in him and get lost in him in return.

He turns away from Callum’s arms to grab the lube and a condom from the drawer in his nightstand, falling back into him once he retrieves the items he was looking for. He sees Callum open his mouth, probably to ask how he wants to do this, but Ben preempts him by slinging a leg over his waist and pressing the lube into Callum’s free hand.

Callum doesn’t waste much time prepping him, fingering him open with careful thrusts and gentle attentiveness, reacting to every hitch in Ben’s breath accordingly, slowing down or changing the angle to keep him right on the edge the whole time. He can’t keep the noises from tumbling out of his mouth anymore, too trapped in the waves of pleasure crashing in his veins.

When Callum is sure that Ben is ready, he detracts his fingers, wiping them on the soft sheets they had pushed aside earlier. Ben rolls the condom onto him, coating Callum’s dick in some more lube and earning a punched-out groan in return for his actions. Callum grabs onto Ben’s thigh and hitches it up higher around his waist while he guides himself in.

Their foreheads fall against each other as Callum pushes in and eventually bottoms out, pants mixing together in the small space between them. It’s a lot to take in; this completion and just how right they feel connected like this. It’s never been like this before for him.

Ben presses their lips back together when Callum begins to move with slow but precise thrusts that punch little sounds of pleasure out of Ben’s mouth, being met with matching one’s by Callum. Ben’s leg tightens around Callum’s waist, foot digging into the back of Callum’s ass with every thrust forward.

He rakes his nails over Callum’s back and into his hairline, holding his head in place when he tucks it into Ben’s neck and lets out hot pants against the skin there. Judging by the way Callum’s thrusts pick up speed he must be edging closer to climax and Ben is about to beg for him to touch him so they can get there together, when Callum untucks his head from Ben’s neck and pulls out of him.

The noise Ben lets out at that is a mixture between a whine and a groan, hands reaching out to pull Callum back onto him, leg falling back onto the mattress. He’s about to ask why Callum stopped when the man sits back and pulls Ben into his lap, legs now wrapped around either side of him, guiding him back onto his cock.

Ben lets out a gasp at the new angle, both arms coming up to wrap around Callum’s shoulders, one tangling back into Callum’s hair and one coming to rest between his shoulder blades, urging him on while he picks up the quick rhythm from before. One of Callum’s hands finds its way back onto Ben’s dick, tugging in time with his thrusts and wrenching a loud moan out of him.

“Cal-”

The rest of his name gets lost somewhere in his throat, swallowed by another moan taking its place. The new nickname seems to only spur Callum on further though, his hand picking up speed and hips snapping quicker and quicker into Ben.

Ben tries to hang on for dear life but he can feel his orgasm building rapidly. He doesn’t want this to end, would happily spend forever in this bed with Callum if it were up to him, but he’s equally desperate to chase the feeling spreading in his lower body.

“So close.”

He mutters the words into the air above him, head falling backwards as one of Callum’s thrusts perfectly hits his prostate, fingers digging into the skin underneath them. The sparks zinging through his body coupled with Callum tilting his wrist just right are what ultimately breaks the dam, his dick coating Callum’s hand in climax as his eyes fall shut in pleasure.

Ben barely registers being lowered back into the pillows in his post-orgasm haze, still panting through the aftershocks. He has half a mind to open his eyes again, wanting to watch Callum’s face as he falls apart above him thanks to no one but Ben. There’s something possessive burning in him at the thought, basking in the feeling that it’s him that’s bringing this intense pleasure to this normally so composed man; that it’s him driving him this wild.

He feels Callum’s thrusts going erratic, canting his hips up to meet Callum halfway once, twice, before Callum lets out a loud moan as he joins Ben in his release, riding out the aftershocks and then swiftly falling into Ben’s arms.

There’s nothing but the sound of their harsh pants for a few moments while they’re coming down together, the house otherwise quiet in the early evening. One of Ben’s hands smooths over the naked skin of Callum’s back and he feels Callum press a kiss into the hollow of his throat where he fell forward, before he leans backwards and pulls out of Ben as gingerly as he can.

Ben watches him as he disposes of the condom and moves back into Ben’s arms, cushioning his head on Ben’s chest and wrapping an arm around his side while Ben’s hand returns to card through Callum’s hair, the strands now loose and falling onto his forehead.

The silence between them is comfortable and light, their heartbeats slowly returning to their normal paces, fingers still lightly running over each other’s slightly sweaty skin.

“This has never happened to me.”

Callum’s voice sounds far away, almost like he said the words without thinking about them first. It sends warmth throughout Ben’s body for some reason he isn’t sure about. Maybe it’s because Callum is normally so controlled in his words and gestures that it feels momentous that he’s all loose and open with Ben now.

He feels honored to experience Callum like this.

“What has?”

“I’ve never fallen for a client before. But you- I fell for you so fast. I couldn’t stop myself.”

Callum looks up at him from his place on Ben’s chest, chin resting on one of his pecs. His eyes are sincere and warm and there’s a soft smile playing on his face, Ben is almost completely sure is being reflected on his face as well. He can’t help it, the confirmation that Callum fell for him just as badly as Ben had is close to overwhelming.

He hopes it’s enough to give Callum faith in them; in what they could be if they let themselves.

“Just promise you’re not gonna disappear on me again, okay?”

It comes out more hesitant than intended, the vulnerability he tries to hide as best as he can at all times shining through. He doesn’t want to lose Callum again, not after just finding out how great they could be together and how perfect they fit. Like they were meant to meet and find each other after all.

“I’ll be by your side for as long as you let me.”

The promise settles the fluttering in Ben’s stomach somewhat, if only for the certainty Callum’s words hold, like he’s determined to not stray from Ben’s side no matter what happens. Ben would very much like that.

Ben leans forward to seal their lips together in a burning kiss, Callum meeting him in the middle with ease. He places a hand on Ben’s cheek, turning his head to deepen the kiss after a heavy moment.

He knows there’s more to talk about, a lot more, but for now he’s content in having Callum’s warm body in his arms and his soft lips against his own, feeling safer and more protected than ever before in his life.

 

*****

 

Being nervous is nothing new to Ben. No matter how many movie premieres he has attended in his career by now, he can never quite get over the sweaty palms and thumping heartbeat. He doesn’t even know what causes the nervousness strumming in his body, it’s not like he gives a damn about what the papers could be writing about him or his outfit or something. It can’t be worse than all the speculation and rumors they’ve written after the attempted shooting somehow became public knowledge.

It only helps a tiny bit today that Callum is sitting right next to him, his usual black suit accentuated with a black dress shirt for once and hair styled neatly into a camera-ready quiff.

He’s going to be right behind Ben at all times tonight, keeping a watchful eye on his surroundings and hopefully detecting any potential threat in advance. He’s even wearing one of these little earpieces to stay in contact with his colleagues and the head of security for the event. Ben thinks it makes him look like some sexy, badass secret agent.

They’re currently in an unmarked car on their way to the premiere. Their route is different to the one his costars and the other guests are taking and there’s a side entrance prepared for Ben to enter. Everything is set up in a way that makes it more difficult for an unauthorized person to predict where he’s going to be.

Callum had convinced him that giving interviews is also too big of a risk this time, so he’s just going to walk the red carpet and then disappear again. Callum doesn’t believe the attacker would be bold enough to make an attempt on his life in broad daylight and surrounded by hundreds of other people, but he’s not taking any chances regardless.

“Are you worried?”

Callum lays a hand on Ben’s thigh next to his, stopping a shaking he hadn’t even realized he’s been doing. Ben is thankful for the distraction. He’s been staring at the people milling around London as they pass them by in the car, trying not to think about the fact that any of them may be on their way to kill him.

He knows exactly why he avoided large crowds until now.

“A bit. Helps to know you’re gonna be there too.”

Ben threads their fingers together on his leg, Callum’s thumb brushing back and forth against his skin. He feels infinitely better at the contact, his heart slowing down and scary thoughts coming to a screeching halt. Everything feels less frightening with Callum’s hand holding onto his.

“I’ll be right there. Even though looking at you in that suit is pretty distracting.”

Ben bites his lip to keep himself from blushing, thinking back to the moment earlier when he had first emerged from the room in his dark blue suit and to the way Callum’s mouth had dropped slightly open, eyes darkening. Ben had almost been ready to cancel the whole thing and drag Callum back to bed.

He leans to the side to press their lips together, squeezing the hand still securely in his own. The fingers of Callum’s unoccupied hand lightly brush against Ben’s chin, trying to keep himself from ruining the work Ben’s stylist has done today but not entirely being able to keep his hands to himself while they trade kisses in the backseat of the car.

They stay close when they part again, with Ben running his nose along Callum’s. They had sex again this morning, all slow and sensual in a way Ben’s never let himself be with other men before, with lots of handholding and eye contact, and he doesn’t think it’s possible for him to fall deeper in love with Callum after that.

He didn’t think he’d feel this way about someone else, maybe ever again, but Callum makes him feel secure; like nothing could happen to him as long as he has Callum by his side. He wants to feel this way for a long time, potentially forever. And he’s certain no one else could make him feel this way.

“Hm. If you’re really lucky you’ll get to take it off tonight.”

“I do feel pretty lucky looking at you.”

The reply sitting on the tip of his tongue is without a doubt no less soppy than what Callum just said to him, the smile on his face already growing by the second, when Ben notices the car coming to a stop. He hasn’t even noticed the crowds and the noise around them, solely focused on Callum next to him; on his pretty blue eyes and the calm and peace he brings to Ben’s mind.

“Ready? Remember, I’m always behind you.”

Ben takes a deep breath before nodding. He smooths a hand down his tie, giving Callum the go ahead for them to get out and do this tonight. He can hear Callum say something in his earpiece while getting out and rounding the car to let Ben out, giving out instructions for the rest of his team.

He’s afraid the noise and people would feel overwhelming after so much time away from it all but the moment he steps onto the red carpet, he remembers why he loves what the does for a living so much, how good he feels when he gets to stand in front of the reporters and have people scream his name and most of all, how much he has missed this fearless and confident version of himself.

It feels amazing to wave at the people lined up behind the steel barriers, to pose for photos with his costars, even if he misses answering questions and chatting to the reporters. The entire moment is such a rush of confidence that he almost forgets about Callum behind him and the danger that’s been looming over him for weeks. He feels light for the first time in so long.

He’s about to turn around to check in with Callum when a sound disrupts the casual atmosphere around him.

The loud noise is echoing in the air for a moment and the next thing Ben registers is that he goes from standing up and looking towards the crowd one minute to laying on the cold, hard ground the next. He doesn’t consciously notice that he’s doing it, or what makes him do it, but all of a sudden he’s lying on his back gasping for air that won’t reach his lungs, staring into Callum’s panicked face appearing above him.

There’s a heavy pressure on his chest, like someone’s pushing down on it with all their strength and he tries to tell them to stop but his mouth isn’t listening, not tumbling out the words he so desperately wants it to. He can’t seem to focus his eyes long enough to take in his surroundings; all he sees is Callum turning his head away to shout something, the formerly perfectly-gelled strands of his hair falling onto his forehead, and for a second he wonders why his hands are so red all of a sudden.

Callum’s mouth is forming words but there’s only silence reaching Ben’s ears, any noise drowned out by a dull ringing in his ears. He can just about make out Callum’s lips shaping the words Ben and something that almost looks like don’t leave me, before everything goes black.

 

*****

 

The next time Ben wakes up it’s less dark than before. His eyes feel heavy when he tries to open them and everything around him is blurry, like it always is in the moments after he wakes up and doesn’t have his contacts in yet. There’s a steady beeping to his side but when he tries to move his body in that direction, there’s a sharp pain in his side so he doesn’t dare to try again.

He doesn’t feel like himself for some strange reason, almost like his body is disconnected from his mind right now; every movement he makes feels sluggish and slowed down, as if someone set the speed of the world around him lower than normal. The sheet covering him is scratchy and stiff - a far cry from the Egyptian cotton he’s used to back at his house.

The sound of a door opening is faint across the room, but Ben notices the figure entering the room and moving towards him. When they come to a stop next to his bed, he notices the scrubs adorning the person’s body, the blonde hair pulled into a neat ponytail and the warm smile on the woman’s face - a nurse; it means he’s in hospital then.

“Good morning, Mr. Mitchell. Welcome back to the land of the living.”

“What?”

His voice sounds quieter than intended, raspy like he hasn’t said a word in days. The nurse gently helps him with drinking some water from the plastic cup on the nightstand next to him, the liquid soothing an ache he hadn’t even realized was there before.

“You were touch and go for two days I’m afraid. The surgery went well but your body wasn’t ready to help us out after that. You obviously needed some more rest.”

Ben doesn’t understand. He’s in hospital, that much is clear, but he can’t for the life of him remember how he possibly could have ended up here. The last thing he’s conscious of is being at the premiere for his movie, waving at the fans and posing for the photographers. It doesn’t connect in his brain how he got here.

“What happened?”

The nurse gives him a sympathetic smile, looking like she has more important things to do rather than explain his medical history to him when she could easily go and get a doctor to explain everything further to him, but she’s taking the time anyway.

Ben is thankful for that.

“You got shot. Fortunately, the bullet missed any vital organs or major arteries and you got immediate help. You’ll have to deal with the sting for a while but all in all, you were pretty lucky.”

The nurse does some more tests, jotting down one thing or another in a little tablet by her side. Ben’s brain is still trying to process the information she’s given him though. He’s been shot. The thing they’ve been desperately trying to avoid for weeks now actually happened to him.

Callum had been right all along, he shouldn’t have gone to that premiere.

Wait, Callum.

He must’ve been there when it happened. He must've stood right behind Ben when he went down; must've seen everything up close. Ben’s heart hurts just thinking about putting him through all of that.

“You’re quite popular, you know. The car park is filled with your fans, security had to block off the entrance. And the waiting area is filled with your family and friends. I think your boyfriend is here longer than I am.”

Boyfriend.

It almost sounds too good to be true, but that’s what they are, right. At least, that’s what they were working towards one day, Ben hopes. He wouldn’t mind it that much he realizes; not if it’s Callum he gets to call his boyfriend.

It does fill him with a bit of dread though to think that Callum is in the waiting room outside with probably his parents and Lola and Jay there too. He hasn’t told anyone about their kiss yet, let alone that they slept with each other, but he just knows that his family will look right through any claims of professionalism as the reason for why Callum is not leaving that waiting room.

“I’ll let them know you’re awake now, but please take it easy, yeah? Your body’s been through a lot, let it rest when you need to. I’ll get a doctor to go over anything else with you, yeah.”

With that she leaves him alone in his hospital bed once again, left staring at the door she just disappeared through. He’s still trying to process the fact that someone shot him and he can’t help but wonder and hope that they actually got the person this time. He doesn’t know if he could carry on if that wasn’t the case. The last time it happened the fear was almost overwhelming and even though he knows he has Callum and his team with him, he can’t help but hope for a breakthrough.

He doesn’t want the fear anymore, the uneasiness in his own home, the dread in his bones every time he steps out into the world. He just wants to breathe easy again.

The sound of the door opening once again rips him from his thoughts and he feels a swarm of relief flood his chest when his mum and Lola walk through it, matching soft smiles on their faces. He can’t believe he came so close to losing all of them, so close to never seeing them ever again.

“God, Ben, we were so worried. How are you feeling, darling?”

“Like I’ve been shot.”

His mum looks like she wants to chastise him for the joke but thinks better of it, probably too happy to see him awake and alive right now. At least she looks like it, even if her exhaustion is palpable - with her tired smile and dark circles under her eyes. He almost feels bad for keeping them all awake and worried, though it’s not like he could help it these last two days.

But he’s so incredibly happy to see them both as well.

They come up to either side of him, his mum taking his hand in her’s and running her fingers over it delicately, Lola to his right runs her hand through his hair, smiling down at him. He’s never told them how amazing they both are as mothers, but he’ll rectify that now. Nothing like almost dying to start vocally appreciating the people around you, he reckons - he’ll gladly be that particular cliché.

“Lexi made you a card. She wanted to come but we told her you have the flu. Your dad is watching her though we had to promise him that he can visit you as soon as himself.”

It brings a slight smile to his face hearing that. He can’t wait to see her again, his dad too, but he would have agreed with the decision to let her stay at home - she doesn’t need to see her dad recovering from a gunshot. He’ll call her later; hearing her voice is pretty high on his list of things he wants to do right now.

“Ruby is calling about every half hour demanding an update on you. She says there’s been a huge amount of public support.”

Ben can’t even imagine what the papers are saying about this. An actor getting shot at a movie premiere in front of hundreds of people must have shocked the nation quite a bit. That’s not at the forefront of his mind right now though, and neither is what this injury could mean for the next movie he’s supposed to start shooting a few weeks from now. No, what’s been on his mind since he woke up again is the question about who in the world would do this to him.

“Mum? Did they get them?”

Kathy runs her hand up his arm until she can lay her palm on his cheek.

“They did. You don’t have to be afraid anymore, okay. You can breathe now, Ben.”

It feels like a weight has been lifted from his chest; like he finally gets to breathe freely after months of torment and fear. He feels nothing short of liberated at the words with this nightmare finally being over.

He wants to know who to thank, if it was someone from Callum’s team who apprehended them or maybe even Callum himself, but the question about his attacker’s identity still remains.

“Who was it?”

His mother’s face closes off at that and when he looks over to Lola to gauge her reaction, he sees the same reserved look on her face. It almost looks like they agreed not to say anything to him, or maybe they were instructed not to do so. He’s not sure what that’s supposed to mean but he gets the distinct feeling that he won’t get any more information out of the two of them.

“Don’t worry about that now, love. You just focus on getting better.”

Her smile returns and almost immediately turns teasing and Ben is already dreading what she’s about to say to him. He has a hunch that it might have to do with the man sitting outside, that’s supposed to be his bodyguard but hasn’t felt like just that in so long. His inkling is confirmed when Kathy exchanges a glance with Lola before speaking again.

“Oh, and on that new boyfriend of yours.”

Ben can feel his cheeks heating up under their amused looks, not being able to hide his own content at her words. The more people say it, the more he comes to believe them himself. He wants to be Callum’s boyfriend and he wants Callum to be his. He wants to wake up and serve Callum breakfast in bed, he wants to watch Callum teach Lexi how to cook and ruin his pristine kitchen in the process and he wants to come home from set to be welcomed back into Callum’s strong arms every single time.

Lola gives him a playful shove, mindful of his current state but still enough to get the message across that he should’ve told her about Callum and him beforehand.

“Yeah, and do me a favor and hold onto that one, Ben. Anyone who waits night and day in hospital for you is worth it in my book. And I think our daughter agrees, you know. She’s been talking about him nonstop since they cooked together.”

The thought alone makes his breathing shallow and his heart rate pick up, the little monitor to the side picking up speed at the mention of Callum and his daughter. She’s easily the most important thing in his life and just the confirmation that she approves of Callum as well is enough to send his heart into overdrive, barely containing how pleased he is at hearing Lola say that.

His mother seems to notice it as well, turning her head to look at the monitor and the spike in his heart beat. The smile she gives him is wide and honest and she looks so happy for Ben that it makes him choke up as well, the want to see Callum again simmering higher and higher in his veins.

Seems like his mother agrees.

“We better get him in here before you’re scaring the nurses, eh.”

They both press a kiss to his forehead before they leave, promising to drop by tomorrow as well and bring Jay and Phil with them this time. Ben watches them go, giving both of them a small wave before the door falls closed again.

He’s tired, can actually feel his energy draining with every moment he forces himself to stay awake, but he’s determined to at least see Callum again right now, because the desperation  to be with him again is burning in his limbs.

It doesn’t take long for the door to swing open again and Ben almost loses his breath at the sight of Callum almost rushing into the room. He stops once he’s inside, door falling shut behind him, rooted to the spot. Their eyes meet instantly and just like they’ve done so many times before, they immediately settle the storm still brewing inside him, calming him to the core.

The stubble coating Callum’s cheeks is more pronounced, like it hasn’t seen a razor since the day of the premiere, and his eyes are rimmed by the same dark circles his mum’s were. But his gaze is relieved and warm; his expression telling Ben that he’s just as desperate to see him again as Ben is, even if there’s a hint of nervousness still shining through on his face.

“You’re a sight for sore eyes.”

There’s a smitten smile fighting its way onto Ben’s face, he’s sure of that, and for once he isn’t trying to hold it back or dim it down. He’s just way too glad he’s able to lay eyes on this beautiful man again. He’s longing to reach out and touch Callum, to feel his warm skin against his own again, to remind himself that this is real and that he’s lucky enough to keep this after all.

Callum lets out a long breath that almost seems to be knocked out of him, finally taking the few steps to close the distance between them. He takes Ben’s head in his hands, thumbs brushing against his skin once or twice, before he ducks down to press their foreheads together.

“God, Ben, I was so worried about you. I don’t think I took a single breath since you were loaded into that ambulance. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I should’ve known. I should’ve done more. I-”

His voice is quiet and tight and there’s a slight tremor to it, like he’s trying hard not to let the emotions overwhelm him. Ben knows exactly how he’s feeling; he wasn’t even conscious these last two days but he still feels like something was missing from him. He can’t begin to imagine how it must have been for Callum, not knowing whether Ben was gonna pull through or not after only just getting to be with him.

But this isn’t his fault, not at all. And he can’t bear the thought that Callum is beating himself up over what happened to him; has probably been mulling it over in his head for the last two days. He doesn’t remember much from him stepping out onto the red carpet of the premiere onwards but he just knows, without a sliver of doubt, that Callum did everything in his power to keep him safe. He always does.

“Hey, stop. You couldn’t have known, okay. Don’t start thinking like that. I’m still here, ain’t I? Also thanks to you probably.”

Callum’s thumbs brush over the red of his cheeks, back and forth against his skin, leaving tingles to break out all over it; the touch streaming out over his entire face and sinking into his skin and his bones. He leans backwards just enough so they can look into each other’s eyes; blue clashing against blue. He missed looking into those eyes and how they make him feel when they look back at him like this - blissfully happy and secure.

But Ben has to know something else before he can fall back into the safety Callum gives him; before he can start fully moving on from this entire nightmare. Maybe he can get more out of Callum than his mum. He must know at least something about the person they arrested, even if he spent the last two days holed up in the waiting room outside.

“Did… did you get whoever did this?”

Callum picks up one of the little chairs from the corner of the room, pulling it up beside the bed. To Ben, it seems like a tactic to buy himself some time. Maybe he’s still deciding what exactly he can tell Ben or he’s trying to stay composed and not let his anger show. 

But maybe that’s just Ben’s wishful thinking.

Callum threads their hands together once he’s seated, the warmth from his hand seeping into Ben’s. His finger brushes back and forth against Ben’s skin and the action is more grounding than any words could possibly be at this moment.

“We did. It was stupid of him to think he could get away with it, what with all the security around.”

“Him?”

Callum's face morphs into a slight grimace and for a second Ben doesn’t think he’s going to continue but Callum surprises him, answering him after letting out a little sigh.

“His name is Keith. He hasn’t said much to the police yet but apparently he was convinced you two were soulmates and this was the only way to get you to ‘realize’ that.”

There’s barely concealed anger on his face now, fire burning in his eyes like Ben’s never seen before. It’s strangely flattering, knowing someone is ready to throw caution to the wind and do whatever it takes for you; knowing someone feels so much for you they’re seething at the mere thought that someone is causing you harm.

“Funny way of showing me that.”

Ben doesn’t understand how that’s the logical plan this guy came up with to achieve that, but maybe there’s nothing logical about it after all. He hopes the guy gets the help he needs now, but that’s about as far as his empathy reaches at this point.

He doesn’t want to think about it anymore; about that man anymore. He spent the best part of three months feeling vulnerable and scared and he isn’t going to give this bloke any more thought or energy. He doesn’t deserve it.

And Ben deserves to be happy and carefree again.

With Callum hopefully.

“The important thing is that it’s over now. You’re free of him.”

“You mean you’re finally free of me.”

Surely, this means that Callum’s contract is over, now that the threat is eliminated and Ben isn’t in active danger anymore. Ben hasn’t really had the time to think about what happens after this. He hasn’t had time to talk to Callum or work out how this thing between them can continue from here on out.

Ben is going back to shooting movies, being away from home for good chunks of time, and Callum is probably scheduled for another client soon, moving into a different home and dedicating his time to protect someone else. It might be that they won’t be able to see each other for a long while after this, not as much as they’d like to anyway.

But Ben is certain they’re going to get through that and find a way to make it work; he’s determined to be with Callum and he won’t give that up without a serious fight. And maybe, if he plays his cards right, he can convince Ruby to keep Callum around for a while longer.

Callum shakes his head at Ben’s quip like the insinuation alone is ridiculous to him. Ben wonders if he’s been thinking about their future as well; if he’s also pondered what it could hold for them. If he spent the better part of the last two days hoping for Ben to wake up so they can see one another again.

He really hopes he did.

Ben can’t help but think about what the nurse and his mum said before; doesn’t know how to bring it up to the man in question, doesn’t know if this is even the right moment for this conversation, but he’s not about to go back on his promise to himself to be more open and appreciate what he has already. He needs to know that Callum wants this too.

“Everyone thinks you’re my boyfriend.”

His voice is lower than expected, careful even though he’s fairly sure him and Callum are on the same page here. It might be too early for Callum to put a label on this but Ben doesn’t want to waste time anymore, not when he knows what he wants. He likes Callum, a whole lot already, and he can finally see someone by his side to share his life with; to build a life with.

The corners of Callum’s mouth twitch upwards and he squeezes Ben’s hand in his to get him to look back at him. What he finds in Callum’s eyes though tells him everything he needs to know about how Callum feels about him, about them. They’re warm and full of something Ben desperately wants to label as love, comforting in a way that makes Ben feel so at home with Callum.

“I could be. If you want that.”

“I do. A lot. Do you want that, too?”

It’s more a reassurance rather than a fear; he already knows Callum’s in love with him, he said so himself only a few days ago, and him almost losing his life must have only reminded him how fleeting life can be. But he wants them to be clear about this, no room for misunderstandings or things unsaid.

Callum lifts their combined hands to his face, pressing a delicate kiss to Ben’s knuckles. The action makes his heart flutter in his chest, hammering against his ribcage. He hasn’t felt this way about someone in so long, has never been so completely sure about someone else before, but it doesn’t feel scary. It’s just exciting.

He’s so transfixed by Callum’s lips on the skin of his hand that the way the heart monitor picks up speed again isn’t even registering anymore; only serving as background noise to them.

“I told you, I’m by your side.”

There are matching, soft smiles on their faces now, eyes crinkling at the corners and Callum’s dimples making a much appreciated appearance again. Ben’s pretty sure he’s the prettiest man he has laid eyes on and he’s all Ben’s. His boyfriend.

Callum runs his free hand through the messy bit of hair covering Ben’s forehead before letting his fingers trail over the side of his face, pressing his forefinger to the tip of his nose and causing a bright but tired smile to break out on Ben’s face in return. Yeah , it’s definitely love.

His eyes are getting heavier by the minute though; the exhaustion from today finally catching up with him. He’s fighting against his eyelids sealing shut again and again, not wanting to miss a second of Callum’s company but it’s a losing battle in the end.

It seems like Callum notices it as well judging by the way his face softens even further, his thumb starting to trace little soothing patterns on the skin of Ben’s hand.

“Go get some rest, yeah. I’ll be right here when you wake up.”

Ben wants to argue against this but he can already feel himself drifting off, the warmth of Callum’s hand combined with the movement of his fingers lulling him under in the softest, most careful way possible.

“You better be, boyfriend.”

The last thing Ben registers is a kiss being pressed to his cheek and then what feels like Callum’s head coming to rest on Ben’s stomach. It’s the best feeling to fall asleep to - perfect even.

With Callum by his side.



Epilogue



It takes almost all of Ben’s remaining energy to keep his eyes from falling shut right now; he’s too comfortable surrounded by warmth and soft sheets and he’s exhausted from their earlier display of passion and a long day of travelling.

They just got back from two months of filming up in Scotland for Ben’s next movie earlier today and they were both desperate to finally sleep in their own bed again; the hotel room Ben was provided with not nearly comfortable enough compared to what they’re used to back home.

Back in their home.

Granted, Ben hasn’t officially asked Callum to move in with him yet, hasn’t really found the courage to take that final step, but Callum’s books are on the nightstand on what he has claimed as his usual side, his clothes are neatly folded in the walk-in closet and his toothbrush has its permanent place next to Ben’s in the master bathroom. He’s as good as moved in already and honestly, it feels damn near perfect for Ben.

He feared they would get sick of each other way too quickly if they would be spending most of the day close to each other at work and then go home with one another afterwards as well but that isn’t the case at all. Callum mostly stays in the background on set, coordinating his team remotely these days rather than provide on-site protection to anyone other than Ben, and when it comes to premieres or award ceremonies he’s equally Ben’s bodyguard and his boyfriend since they made their relationship public a few months after Ben was shot - it remains his most-liked Instagram post to this day.

Being with Callum still hasn’t lost its spark; has never gotten old or boring now that they’re pretty much settled and domesticated - at least as much as they can be with the kind of jobs they both have. He still wakes up next to Callum and falls deeper in love with him every day. Not just because he has gotten to know Callum on such an intimate level since they decided to become official boyfriends but because he has fallen so effortlessly into every single one of Ben’s family dynamics.

His mum adores Callum, his dad apparently spent quite a few hours with Callum at the hospital when Ben was still recovering, causing them to bond of all things, and he has fast become friends with Jay and Lola as well. He even has his own irrevocable invitation to the Friday dinner with Ben’s family.

And then there’s Lexi, who absolutely loves Callum. Their relationship has always been special - ever since they met and she got Callum to show a different side of himself to Ben, the one he fell so completely in love with - but since he and Callum got together for real, Lexi has taken an even bigger shine to him.

They cook whole three-course meals together in his kitchen, take trips to the zoo while Ben is off working at times and have movie nights with popcorn and chocolate and forts made out of couch cushions. It makes Ben’s heart beat faster every time he gets to watch the two of them interact with each other; how they’re always smiling at one another and how they just click and work.

He still remembers the chat he had with Callum in the car that one day, where Callum told him he’d like to have a child of his own one day and it brings warmth to his chest knowing that he’s giving that to Callum in some capacity - a family of his own, someone to come home to every day.

He doesn’t like to remember a lot about that particular day but that is something he doesn’t mind remembering.

Ben lets his head loll to the side, his forehead pressed into Callum’s neck where he’s sitting in the V of Callum’s legs, his back to Callum’s front. Callum is propped up against the headboard behind him, one hand resting on Ben’s naked thigh and one running up and down Ben’s side almost on autopilot.

Sometimes, he subconsciously starts circling the round scar at the side of his chest, the one shaped like a bullet hole, stuck in the memory of almost losing Ben and all he can do then is take Callum’s hand and kiss each knuckle to remind him that he’s still there, still living and breathing and loving.

Now though, he’s carefully trailing his hand up and down Ben’s skin, causing goosebumps to break out and vanish only to repeat the process again and again. There’s some faint moonlight pouring into the room through the open blinds, colliding and mixing with the soft glow of the bedside lamp. It’s calm, serene almost, a far cry from the bustle of the movie set or the unfamiliar feeling of their hotel room these last couple of months.

Ben can’t help but press a kiss to the skin of Callum’s neck, too close to his lips to not follow up on the unwritten invitation it poses whenever they’re close, as if it isn’t enough that they’re connected from the neck down, skin touching skin with every limb and stretch of flesh.

“I wouldn’t mind some food, you know.”

He lets the words trail off, sure that Callum will understand what Ben wants him to do just like he always does, no further explanations needed, like they’re both fluent in the language of the other’s movements, tones and smiles.

“Go get some then.”

They had the fridge restocked before they got back from Scotland today and yeah, Ben could just as easily go downstairs and make something to eat for them himself but he wants his boyfriend to do it. Callum owes him after basically sitting around for two months and watching Ben be whisked around by wires to save the fictional world.

Catering and paid meals are great but they don’t hold a torch to whatever Callum manages to throw together when one of them starts getting hungry in the deep of the night. Plus, he’s insanely hot bustling around the kitchen while Ben gets to watch him, sitting on the kitchen counter next to Callum.

“I meant food by you. Come on, it won’t look good if you let me starve on your watch. Ruby would be pissed.”

He feels more than hears the snort Callum lets out behind him, the hand that was trailing over his side now running up into his hair, tugging until Ben unearths his face from his neck and looks up at his boyfriend.

There’s a small smile on Callum’s face and that coupled with the little sigh Callum lets out before pressing a kiss to his forehead tells Ben he’s won this one; a victory almost as sweet as the pancakes he’s going to force Callum to make.

“I think I liked you better when you were bedridden. So pliant, less mouthy.”

“I was never bedridden. I was told not to move too much, okay. Besides, you love me mouthy.”

Ben leans forward to press a kiss to Callum’s lips, Callum meeting him halfway, forever irresistible to how they feel when they meet like this. Callum’s hand moves down over his face and onto his chin, taking it between thumb and forefinger to keep their mouths together for a moment longer, enjoying the feel of their lips against each other.

They’ve done it a million times by now, the kissing, but it never stops feeling wondrous. Ever since that first press of lips downstairs in the foyer, Ben’s heart leaps and his stomach lurches every time they meet. Every short peck, every passionate make out - he can never get enough.

Their faces stay close to one another when they part and Ben can’t help but press one more peck to Callum’s pink lips, shiny in the golden light of their bedroom.

“Is that supposed to be an innuendo?”

Ben has to think about what they were talking about a minute before; kissing Callum for longer than a millisecond tends to leave him a bit dazed most of the time.

“No, that’s supposed to remind you that you love me.”

He twists his leg so that he’s facing Callum now, sitting between Callum’s spread legs, duvet falling away from them and pooling somewhere around their waists. Ben grabs one of Callum’s hands in his own in an effort to keep the contact that’s now missing, his back already cooling without the heat from Callum’s body against it.

“I don’t need reminding of that. I think about it every time I decline a good job offer just so I can stay your bodyguard.”

It’s true. Apparently, not even Ben getting shot on his watch could dismantle Callum’s excellent reputation - maybe the fact that he’s one of the reasons Ben survived has at least a tiny bit to do with that as well - and he has gotten a lot of offers to work for other celebrities or agencies. Ben would feel bad about Callum declining each and every one of them, if he wasn’t so sure that Callum is perfectly happy with the way things are right now.

And if he ever decides that he wants a change then Ben is going to be completely supportive of that as well. But until then he’ll enjoy having his boyfriend with him at all times.

“Don’t act like you don’t love it. Exotic places, being fitted for award shows, all the sex in studios, trailers and on planes.”

He knows Callum could do without the public scrutiny and talk about their relationship, not to mention people hounding him for comments and public engagements, but he keeps assuring Ben that he knew what he was getting himself into with dating Ben and that he doesn’t care about anything other than them - it’s always nice to hear.

He also knows first hand that Callum does like the sex as well.

“I like the part where I’m always with you.”

Ben lets out a small cooing noise, leaning forward to seal their mouths back together, wasting no time in deepening their kiss. He throws his leg over Callum’s, straddling him, Callum’s hand immediately coming to rest on Ben's waist. They kiss for a few more moments, tongues brushing against each other and hands squeezing the skin underneath them, until Ben starts mouthing across Callum’s jaw and down his neck.

“Thought you wanted food.”

Callum’s voice is breathless and rough above him, soft little pants mixing with the sound of the kisses Ben keeps pressing to the taunt skin above his collarbone. Every part of Callum’s skin feels like magic to him, overcome with some spell that makes it impossible to keep away; impossible not to touch, to kiss, to taste, to feel.

“Think I want you more.”

Ben breathes the words into Callum’s ear, causing an obvious shudder to run through his body. Callum wraps his arms around Ben and pulls him back into him. Ben goes willingly, falling and falling and knowing Callum is always there to catch him; knowing he’ll be safe and loved in Callum’s arms.

Because this is it, this relationship with Callum. It’s everything he’s never let himself dream of but now never wants to let go again. It’s palpable, in how they fit together, in how they connected their lives with one another so easily, in every kiss and every touch.

It makes sense.

They make sense.

Ben has always tried not to think too far into the future, to enjoy his life the way it is in the moment, but he finds he can’t stop doing it since falling in love with Callum. He thinks about proposals and marriage, about the possibility of more kids, about Callum bathed in the golden light of the conservatory with greying hairs and the same ocean blue eyes.

He finds it’s something he can’t wait for; his own personal romance movie - complete with gorgeous love interest and happy ever after. If there’s something good to be gained from being shot by some maniac, it’s probably finding the love of your life along the way.

He doesn’t mind though, not one bit. Not if it’s Callum he gets to love and his arms he falls into whenever he needs them. Not when he knows he’ll feel safe and protected for the rest of his life.

He can’t think of anything better.