Written for: emily_shore
Title: Piano e forte
Pairings: Benjamin Britten/Peter Pears
Summary: Reunited in London after more than a month apart, Ben has a special Christmas surprise for Peter.
A/N: Thanks to misswinterhill for her marvelous beta, and for challenging me to go deeper. The fic is much better for it!
"Where is he taking us, Ben?"
"Just a short detour," I said as the taxi in which we rode manoeuvred its way through the busy London streets. It was a beautiful, crisp winter day, the week before Christmas, and there was much to celebrate; not the least of which was being reunited with Peter. I couldn't help but be happy.
The citizens of London too were determined to commemorate their first post-war Christmas with good cheer, though times remained difficult, frivolities few. Evidence of the war's brutality was still everywhere to be found, but life was determinedly returning to normal again. Buildings that had been ravaged were being torn down or repaired. The markets were burgeoning again with fruits and meats that had existed for too long only in fond memories, and meals were becoming something to look forward to again. No more powdered eggs!
This Christmas, families would truly be celebrating with an abundance of food and gifts. I'd already purchased my Christmas gift for Peter which, he didn't realize, he would get today. I patted my pocket, smiling at the object I'd tucked inside.
"Whatever are you so suspiciously happy about?"
"Just glad for this lovely day, Peter. Just glad for this lovely day."
"You live to torment me, don't you?"
I chuckled but didn't answer. Peter sighed his best miserable sigh that bordered this side of plaintive, and begged for consolation from me that wasn't forthcoming. We were not alone, after all. He glared at me when I failed to respond as expected, and sniffed.
"I long for nothing more right now than a hot bath and a soft bed to stretch out on, and here you are, making us ramble all over London as if I were some tourist to be entertained. Can't we go to the hotel?"
I relented a little. "Was it a bad trip then?"
"Terrible." His little finger brushed against mine. Further words weren't necessary--we'd long ago learned to communicate without. I hooked mine with his before pulling away. He hated that, my pulling away. I smiled to myself. Very soon there'd be one place, at least, where we wouldn't have to deny our affections for each other.
"This won't take long. I promise you." I drummed my fingers on the seat beside me, going over yet again every last detail. If I'd missed anything it was too late now.
He flattened my hand with his own, stilling it. I glanced at him then, noted for the first time his red-rimmed eyes. Guilt took a vicious stab at my gut. We'd avoided looking directly at each other at the train station--to do so made it that much more difficult to maintain our air of nonchalance--so I hadn't notice how worn down he'd truly become. Five weeks apart was simply too much, though our work had necessitated it. It'd been a week or more since we'd spoken last, and then only a quick 'I'll soon hold you again, my love!' before we'd had to sign off so I'd had no idea he'd worn himself down to a nib. I should've known though. I should've. I would make it up to him.
He truly was exhausted. I ached to apologise for my neglect, but conscious of our current situation I dared not say a word. Though the cab driver studiously ignored us, my heart thudded at the thought he might discern we were two gentlemen of more than casual acquaintance. I didn't want us to end up on the side of the road as we had once before on Long Island. What a misery that had been, especially for Peter. He'd caught a fierce cold and had been unable to sing. I'd felt guilty for days over that.
"I'm all right, Bee," he murmured, reading my thoughts. "I just want to be alone."
With you. His unspoken thought warmed me. I shifted in my seat, glancing at the taxi driver. "I know."
The weary cadence of Peter's voice and the defeated slump to his shoulders tugged at me as the taxi turned the next corner, making me question the wisdom of not doing exactly as Peter had suggested. But five weeks apart! I'd missed him fiercely, but until we were alone I dare not show him how much. Greeting him at the station with the merest of hugs had been torment, and now sitting next to my dear tired man, hearing his breath catch at the slight press of our bodies against each other would surely cause me to slip up and shock our driver. My entire body ached with the desire to take him into my arms, hold him, soothe his aching body as only I could do. I wanted to touch him. Had to clench my hand into a fist to keep from reaching out for even the barest of contact.
I daren't let that happen. He knew I wouldn't either; the pain in his eyes reflected that. I pressed my leg against his, until a fleeting smile brightened his face. I could endure this a few moments longer, as, I determined with a quick glance at our surroundings, we were nearly there.
I had to suppress my glee--Peter did not suspect. And why would he? What I'd done was completely uncharacteristic of me, after all. He was the one given to silliness and frivolities whilst I stoically shook my head at him. The little nonsense presents slipped into my pockets or notes left hidden on my desk or pinned to my freshly-laundered shirts, the surprise trip to Grand Rapids--that couldn't be topped even by what I'd done. But I hoped it would be close.
"We're headed there now. Just close your eyes."
"This is a very odd way to go." He closed his eyes as I'd suggested, crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the car's door frame. "If I fall asleep you'll have to carry me inside."
I laughed at the thought. "I'll just drag you in."
"Beast," he mumbled.
I leaned into him and, keeping an eye on the cab driver, growled beneath my breath. He chuckled, but didn't open his eyes.
We settled into silence. At last the cab turned down the street and pulled up in front of a maisonette and stopped. I slid my hand over Peter's and squeezed. He startled--the poor dear had fallen asleep.
"Are we there yet?" he asked, straightening.
"I have a surprise for you."
"A surprise? You?"
"I'm capable," I said, feigning injury.
He frowned at me but then his eyes widened owlishly as he looked past my shoulder. "Where are we?"
The cab driver got out of the car to pull Peter's luggage from the boot. I glanced through the back window, and then quickly kissed Peter, lacing my fingers through his. "Home."
With a grin, I slid back to my side and got out to pay the cab driver, leaving Peter gaping. I took a deep breath; clean, fresh and crisp air filled my lungs, and someone close by was baking bread. My stomach rumbled. Luck had been mine the day I stumbled upon this little street and its remarkable peacefulness. We could, I hoped, be happy here. I just prayed Peter would feel the same.
The cab driver stood waiting on the kerb next to the luggage. "How much?" I asked him, reaching into my pocket for change. Peter's door opened and he got out, blinking. His confusion was brilliant.
I handed him four, hoping that would keep any observations he'd made about us quiet. A smile broke across his face. "Thank you sir, have a good day sir," he said as he took it with a bob of his head. Peter got out of the way as the cab driver got back in and took off.
I looked at my love, wrapped up in his coat and standing forlorn in the middle of the street. "Well, I don't fancy the thought of you getting hit your first day back in London. Come here."
He raised his hands in confusion. "What's going on, Ben? What have you done?"
I reached into my pocket and pulled out the key. I tossed it to him.
"Hey now!" he said, grabbing for it. He stared at the key in his palm as he joined me on the pavement. I picked up the luggage.
"Come on, let us in."
"What are you talking about?"
I nodded at the pathway before us, leading to a lovely red-bricked maisonette, the entrance key to which he held in his hand.
"Ben," he said, but I'd already marched to the front door. He followed after me, of course. I was grinning like a fool, and couldn't help but skip a little. He laughed. I whirled around, dropping his luggage and faced him.
"Welcome home, love," I said.
Then I grasped the dear shocked man by the arms, and looked into his eyes, pulled him to me, and kissed him. His lips were cold, but it only took a moment for him to recover, a moment more for his lips to warm. I looked into those beautiful brown eyes of his, and closed my own and sank into the kiss. Softness against soft, a small clash of teeth and he responded, as he always responded to my demand. His mouth parted, his arms slid around me and he held on as if for dear life. He groaned--more a whimper, and I felt him hardening against me.
My whole body ached to take him right then and there, in front of the whole world. The days of skirting about weren't over, but from this moment forward I would do all I could to make our private lives together amazing. I loved him, my beautiful tenor, and would now spend the rest of my life showing him.
He pulled back at last, the hope on his face, in his eyes, indescribable. "What's come over you?" he finally asked.
I laughed, releasing him and picking up his suitcase. My whole body thrummed, a quick confirmed his own state. "Madness, my dear man," I said. "Complete and utter madness."
"We've probably scandalised the neighbors," he said, inserting the key into the lock.
The front door was mostly hidden by too-tall bushes. "Let them be scandalised," I said airily, though we both knew I'd taken a risk by kissing him outside. "Besides, it is possible we'll be figured out in time, no matter what we do."
He hesitated turning the lock on the door. Looking up to me, his eyes worried, he said, "I love you, you old goat. I hope this isn't a mistake."
"We won't know unless we try."
He nodded, the corner of his mouth quirky. "I can't believe you did it. I thought--"
"I know," I said, knowing what he was thinking. I touched his cheek. "I want you to be happy, Peter. I want to wake up to you every morning possible. I want to write music for you, and through that, especially through that, show the world what we have is not a bad thing, a horrible thing. Because it isn't."
He nodded, took a deep breath, and opened the door. I followed him, setting the suitcase down and closed the door. Leaning against it I watched him, and waited. And suddenly, inexplicably, a thread of nervousness crept into me. My confidence trilled off as the silence continued, dissonance cloaking the room.
Though our possessions were still few, I'd done the best I could to settle what we had into place, and purchase a few items of comfort. The windows weren't covered, and the meagre sunlight coming in made the room gloomy. I longed to throw them open and chase out the faint fusty scent of a house closed up too long--how had I not noticed that before?
What had looked so perfect to me the night before now seemed stark and terribly poor.
He stood in the center of the main room, his back to me, and looked around, arms hanging at his side. Apologies danced on my lips.
"If you don't like it, I'll find us something else."
He said nothing.
"We'll have a housekeeper, too," I went on. "She tends next door as well. She's used to musicians."
I stepped forward, accidentally kicking his suitcase. His head jerked, but he didn't turn and look at me. I walked up behind him, stopping. "I thought I could buy a desk where I can work, move it there, in the corner by the window. We can move the piano there if you prefer."
He shook his head, moving away from me and at that moment I knew I'd made a mistake.
He walked into the living area, back still turned to me. Cutting me off. Rebuffed and alarmed, my heart beating in triple time, I searched my mind for the right words but they eluded me. He moved into the room I'd chosen for our bedroom--the only furniture occupying it now was the bed, a beautiful piece that had been left behind by the previous tenant, who no longer wanted it. I'd not bought linens for it, expecting Peter would enjoy choosing them, only covering it with a blanket.
He still said nothing.
Denial waltzed uselessly against the single note of truth. He hated it.
"Darling," I said, my agony complete. "Say something."
Peter wrapped one hand around a post, and leaned against it, staring down at the bed. He bent his head down, hunching his shoulders. It took me a long, terrible moment to realise something.
He was crying.
I took a step forward, reached out, but as unsure as the first day we'd acknowledged the desire we shared, I let my hand fall. It was too much. I'd assumed too much, that he would want this despite the risk. I wavered where I stood, my disappointment too vast and my throat too clogged with unshed misery to do anything but wait for the inevitable.
He turned, those red-rimmed eyes brimming. I sucked in my breath, staring at him, my hope building in a crescendo.
"It's--" He swallowed, leaned against the post. "Oh, my dear Bee." He wiped his eyes with his sleeve. "Of all the things you have ever done for me, never have I been so moved as I am now."
The rough timbre of his voice vanquished the last of my fears. The distance between us vanished. He came to me, hungrily, eagerly now, kissing me so deeply that I nearly forgot to breathe.
My entire being burst into fire, my excitement unleashed and I had to have him, right then, right there. He knew it, wanted it, this consummation, the eagerness shining brightly in his eyes. It took only moments for shoes to be kicked off, trousers to be dropped, our shirts and every last stitch of clothing to be strewn about the room. I pulled him onto the bed, pinning him beneath me. His legs entwined around my hips and I took him without preamble, our bodies alive with the freedom of being gloriously alone, and together, at last.
I carry with your feet a burden which with my lame ones I cannot;
I fly with your wings, having none of my own; with your spirit toward heaven I am always moving;
by your will I turn pale or blush, cold in the sun, warm in the coldest weather.
Within your will alone is my will, my thoughts within your bosom are born, in your breath are my words.
I am like the moon, alone, which our eyes cannot see in the heavens except that it is illumined by the sun.
--Sonetto XXX from The Seven Sonnets from Michelango by Benjamin Britten