Two Moments


benji_icon.gif howard_icon.gif

Scene Title Two Moments
Synopsis Benji reaches out to Howard.
Date November 4, 2011

It's snowing.

That will be the first observation that Howard makes, the gentle drift of powdery ice from a black sky. He only feels it a moment later as stinging kisses on his face and hands, otherwise warmly bundled against the unforgiving winter. Next, the reflection of lamp light on black water, and then the water itself, everywhere, glassy, thick with cold and formless ice. They are moving at a slow pace, the hull of the boat pushing through the thick waters of the familiar river.

Uneasiness, woven through the fabric of the dreamscape. He's never really been one for the ferrying part of the Ferrymen, and even under gentle snowfall, his latent electrical ability is tempted to spark and snap.

"Steady," advises a familiar voice. "We're almost there."

Benji, near the bow, hand on the tiller. She's grown up around boats and knows her way around this one, as well as this bend of river as they head back to the island. Looking at her now, it's a moment of double vision, of someone familiar to Howard in real life while also inextricably her more dramatic, feminine persona, all long inky hair, a coat that seems woven from the night sky, and delicate hands with sharp, glassy nails.

Doubt is seeded easily in Howard's heart. Doubt that this is real, doubt that he's dreaming, doubt either way. She waits for him to acclimatise, pale eyes piercing.

The snow clings to Howard in the way things in dreams can, where nothing has to obey unfortunate rules. He can feel the prickling cold, because Benji knows he likes to. Because being warm all the time is an extreme, and Howard prefers things that slip, things that change, things that — “You,” Howard exhales the words, feeling breathless for a moment.

“You’re… okay.” He’d been sitting on the deck, levers himself up to stand with some wobble. Howard wasn’t fond of boats, the ocean, water. But here, it all feels different. Familiar and unfamiliar, welcome and unwelcome. “I’ve —” been worried is implied enough that Benji can feel it in her bones, missed you goes unsaid but radiates off of Howard like the heat he radiates in the waking world. “I’ve been… wondering.” He always leads without his heart.

But that’s why it is a delayed approach, why Howard’s feet only start to move after he’s tried to put distance between the two in words. Because that’s how he acts, how he protects, how he maintains. He slips up behind her, head down, eyes downcast further. She’s ephemeral here, he’s resolute, it’s sun and sky, earth and land. “Are you — okay?” That last bit, tighter than the last, is heavy with concern.

Sometimes dreams are like this, absorbing unspoken sentiment through the fabric and texture of the world woven between them, felt and not heard. It makes speaking to people like Howard a different experience than in the waking world, although Benji's adapted to some of that too.


Mock demure, but just as Howard can't conceal his own latent anxieties, a veneer of aloofness doesn't conceal her own. Her manning of the boat doesn't cease, hands calm and easy, even if there is the sense that she could take her hands off the tiller, let the sails go slack, and it would carry them wherever they wanted. "I'm fine. I know where I'm headed."

If this dream is a representation of that, then her knowledge is shadowy at best. The river ahead is all dark, visible mainly where ice and snowy crusted along the banks catch the moonlight. "I wish I knew where you were headed."

“Alaska,” but Howard knows what she meant. But it’s also where they all went to rescue him, where he nearly died. “I couldn’t… let them walk into that nightmare alone.” I couldn’t leave my mother there, is a deeper truth, spread bare by the water and the wind. But it’s a truth Benji understands, she’d do anything for Delia.

Howard stands precariously close, but keeps his eyes down at the deck of the ship. “Where… are you going?” He’d been wanting to ask, could only bring himself to do it now. There’s trepidation in that too, and regret for too many things left unsaid. Too many things left undone. As if their ship isn’t moving down a river, but approaching a waterfall.

It's a good question. Shame about the answer.

Not that Benji is navigating her way to certain death, or re-entering a— what did Howard call it? A nightmare, the sort of terminology that pricks her attention, her sympathy. None of those things, but all the same. "I like to think about time as the wind," she says, instead of giving a direct answer, tone dreamily serene. "Because metaphors are so much easier to fathom when it comes to the abstract, don't you think so? If time is the wind, then it buffeted us all in whatever direction it liked. We ran aground somewhere. We sank.”

"It's only with hindsight that you can plot a course. Manipulate it. But you're still, in some way, at its mercy. And you know, I think we're headed into the storm very soon. The one that changes all of it."

You wouldn't be able to tell it, here. Calm waters. A constant wind that fills their sails.

"I want to hate the idea of you going back there."

Howard’s expression darkens, eyes cast away from the deck and out to the Horizon. “Yeah,” is his non-committal answer. Though Benji can feel I never left there echoing behind his words. “I — don't know if I'll — if any of us’ll make it back this time.”

There's an uncertainty in Howard, a fear of the wind in the proverbial as much as the water in the literal. He’s tense, in the way a runner is before beginning a sprint. Tense, and ready. “We’re living in a dream,” is the first time he's ever truly sounded like that. “I'm asleep, in a car, next to Nicole Rya—Nnichols. Ben fucking Ryans is driving. It's —”

Something makes Howard stop. He curls his hands closed, such as they even are hands, and tries to relax as he opens them. “It's a dream.”

It hurts her heart, the things he isn't saying. Because Benji knows that the things you can't say have a way of burrowing in even deeper, infecting, poisoning, becoming more true and innate than they ever would have been otherwise. There's a healing quality about dreams that can draw these things out like poison from a wound, but she has never mastered this. Too many of her own unspoken truths.

Better at digging new ones in, like blades of glass, but that's not why she came here either.

Her palm is cool and smooth against his when she takes his hand, fingers relaxed rather than tangling. In real life, Benji's fingers are rough from work, but every time she goes to sleep, she's remade. "We never do," she says, gently. "We never know if we'll come back, this time or the next time. But," she adds, an eyebrow raising, a flicker of warmth that is almost felt as well as heard, "I would like to think your chances are greatly heightened with Ben Ryans driving."

More seriously, "And you're going to save her. We all came back here for someone."

Howard is silent for a while, eyes fixed on her hand atop his. He's trembling, even now in dreams when nerves aren't so much a thing as they are an idea.

"I never knew her," Howard explains in a hushed breath. "I mean I— I never even met her. Not before we…" he looks from the hand to the horizon. "When I told her the truth, all she wanted to do was hold me." It's bitterness, there. Misplaced as it is. The why does she have to be so kind that juxtaposed with his desire for her to be terrible, so he can excuse avoiding her for so long.

The thought drives a nail of frustration into Howard's brow. It tenses, he tenses, and looks over to Benji from the middle distance. He was always looking for convenient excuses for his treatment of others.

Benji's handhold is steady and calm, unmoving, simple connection. If anything, it might betray her fear, her fear for him when he finally rouses and slips away, but she maintains a certain control over herself she doesn't possess in real life.

"Delia was like that," she says, gently. "I knew her, and I love her, but she had no reason to know and love me, but I think she does. We want a better future for them and they want to create a better world for us too, now that we left ours behind. Nick thinks he can change. Which is charming."

She sounds — just a touch — dismissive.

"Did you let her? Hold you."

Howard is of two minds about that question, and Benji can feel the yes and the no of it all. But only one of the answers is to her question, the other is to his own internal logic, what the question makes him feel.

"Eventually," is the answer Howard gives that unifies his divide, works for both the literal and the metaphorical. "I… put some distance between us at first," he explains in a small voice, a regretful voice.

"Then," Howard turns his hand over beneath Benji's, fingers up, tentatively moving between hers. "Then I… " his breath hitches in the back of his throat. "Then I actually paid attention to her, and…" Howard's voice grows smaller. "I stopped running from the people trying to care about me." The tragic twang of something else lingers at the back of that, unspoken consequences for his actions. Painful, tense, his fingers start to disengage.

And Benji's fingers tighten, keeping his hand. A touch of fear for him finally registers in that moment, smoothed out again like a wrinkle in fabric (or more violent, beneath the surface of the dream she's crafted, a stamping down of her own stupid, selfish feelings) to convey confidence instead. She wouldn't want him to wake from this feeling her desperate fear like fingernail marks on his skin, but from affection and pride conveyed in their tangle of hands.

"You started running towards them," she says, a glimmer of good humour in wordplay, but something genuine too. Stepping into the lion's den in pursuit of someone he's opened his heart to: twice the act of bravery. "That's," a slightly shy head tip, that moment of double vision increasing of who she is in dreams and how Howard knows her in real life, "what I wanted to be sure about."

A beat, and then, "I wish I could be there." But there are reasons she can't be, besides the rift that has grown between them.

"I do too…" Howard breathes the words out, hushed like the wingbeats of a small bird. "Because I know…" because I'm afraid, "…I might never get this chance again." Howard's blue eyes track to their entwined hands, his fingers curling with hers.

"I'm sorry," Howard says with just enough voice to emphasize in the small distance between them. He leans against her, warm and prickling with static electricity. "For running," is added with a wearied tremor in his voice. "For taking too long," comes with more difficulty.

Howard looks from their hands, meets Benji's stare. His jaw tightens. "I'm sorry I wasn't who I really am."

Sympathy — a deep boned kind of understanding, different from pity — seems to manifest itself in the black water folding against the hull of the boat, in the shift of snowflakes like dust motes in movement, and then more mundanely, in the gentle squeeze of her hand in his. The ache of lost time is a real thing, but then, why would they have ever come back here, if they, more than most, didn't understand its cost already?

She smiles, then, ever understated. "I know you, Robert," she assures.

Her other hand then lays over his heart, that prickle of electricity strangely familiar in association, even if their familiarity has always come with distance. Even now, him asleep in a car driving further north, further away by the second.

There's a moment of mixed dream logic, two moments seamlessly fused together. This one, and one where he feels held, a hand cool on the back of his neck.

Ever since he'd come back, there's only been one other person who called him by his actual name. Now both Elle and Benji might as well be a world away. His smile is a wordless, if rueful one. So many things left unsaid, so many more he wishes he had time to deliver. But there isn't time, the duality of the moment is a lingering reminder of how tenuous this all is.

"If I make it back," Howard murmurs, eyes closing at the sensation of her hand on the back of his neck. The if in his words now so desperately something he's clinging to.

"Where can I find you?" He opens his eyes on asking that question, as if he were trying to make a wish. Make a hope real.

She'd refute that if with a when if she didn't feel like it meant something like hope instead of their usual qualifying pessimism. Instead, she conveys to him the docks of Pollepel Island. A vision. It's an overcast day. The wood of the jetty is dark with slowly drying damp. Cloying water, not his favourite, but at least the vision comes with it a sense of calm. Of sitting at the edge of the dock, arms folded around bent knees. A sense of waiting, there, for a boat to come in, for the people on that boat, for reunion.

"Or close your eyes," Benji adds. "I'll find you first."

Maybe there will be nightmares to disperse. She can't even imagine.

"Howard," the strong voice jostles him awake, breath hitching in the back of his throat and pupils dilating. As he exhales a shuddering breath, Howard looks around and finds only the ratty interior of a battered car. Not a ship. Not Pollepel. Not Benji.

"We stopped for gas, last chance for snacks." Just Benjamin Ryans, looking back at Howard from the driver's seat as they pull up to the pump. Howard looks at his muted reflection in the window, jaw set, sea-spray smell still in his nose.

"I'm not hungry."

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