A/N: Why? Because I was sleep-deprived and emotional at three in the morning last night and made myself cry with almost every single line of this so that means cANDARU HAS TO CRY TOO
Somewhere Only We Know
They'd met to talk on the same bench for years.
It sat on the edge of the park, adjacent to the footpath. On the other side of the path, a thin wire fence blocked the way to green hills that rolled off into the distance. The only visitors to this lonely side of the park were cows, bells clanking dolefully, as they ambled over to this quiet corner of their property to look curiously over the fence at an empty bench shaded by waving trees, before they went back to grazing on the green hills.
In the distance was a little farmhouse, barn, and silo, all of them barely specks of color on the horizon, and far out of earshot of anything said by that quiet path. All other benches in the park faced inwards, towards the center, but someone must have realized that weary passers-by would want to look out at this natural scene of calm and built the bench facing out the wrong way, an easy way to look over the country scenery.
It was an area well-known to the professor, and over the years, the attorney (long after he stopped wearing the badge and suit) learned it well too. It felt far from the bustle and noise of the city, though it was only a short drive and hardly a longer walk. He felt glad that his friend had recommended it, all those years before—and that they just kept seeming to come back.
Whether five months or five years had passed, whenever he returned to the country, they'd always find themselves in this same spot, and secrets would be shared here that no one else heard, under a solemn pact that anything said at that bench they'd both take to their graves. The professor had a reputation to uphold; the attorney just had his slender dignity and a sense of embarrassment about some things. But even that was beginning to become unimportant nowadays. He just enjoyed the simple company and the sense of being alone together.
Winter in England could be rough and ugly, but this one had been fair, if very snowy. The hills were frosted over with white, marred only by scattered hoofmarks sinking into the snow, but the cows themselves had sheltered themselves in the barn away from the cold and had no sign of coming out. Nothing but snowflakes floated in the air, and the whistle of the wind.
Christmas was coming. The attorney could feel it in the December air. He was happy—the joy and anticipation of the upcoming holiday even seemed to touch here, far away from the department stores and even from the decorations that blared it in neon color. But the professor had spotted a wreath on the door of the farmhouse when they'd first arrived. His eyes were the better ones, now.
They'd sat there, just talking, for hours in the snowfall. It had been five years since the last time; they had a lot to catch up on.
The professor's worn old hat had a drift of snow growing on the top that his friend couldn't bear to point out. He'd been going on for hours, cradling a thermos of hot tea to warm his hands.
The attorney's bad hip was in pain, and the thermal coat, heavy and warm as it was, could do little anymore to protect him against the persistent cold. But he didn't mind. He wouldn't stop him.
He was talking about Claire.
Long ago, they'd resigned themselves to the fact that they would seldom walk away from this place with dry eyes. This time, it seemed, would be no exception.
Well, he didn't mind that either. There was no embarrassment about this anymore.
They sat in silence together for a long time after their voices had ceased, looking out over the snow-covered hills, and the attorney could feel the gentle wind mussing his grey hair. The professor sipped his tea, and his friend laid his cane on his knees, rubbing the bare gold knob with his thumb through his glove.
They both knew why they wouldn't get up so soon. For one thing, the minute they walked back to that car was the minute they had to leave this sense of quiet tranquility and companionship and plunge back into the world that moved too fast for the both of them, anymore.
For another thing, they were both old. Getting up was a pain, in a far too literal sense.
But they had to. By and by, they had to. And the taller man found himself leaning again on the shorter man's arm as they picked their way carefully down the footpath, the attorney's cane plonking ahead of them and leaving little cylindrical holes in the snow.
He must have set it down on a patch of ice, because it slid forward a few inches—and that was just enough, with how much he leaned on it, to send his balance off-kilter, and he almost stumbled forward.
The shorter man reached out his other arm to catch him. "Steady there," he said quietly, not judging, but compassionate, as always.
The taller one regained his balance and emptied his lungs. The sigh drifted on the air in a cloud of vapor before it disappeared.
Once upon a time, there was no need for this.
Not trusting his cane, he leaned more heavily on his friend for guidance, but not enough to knock the smaller man over either. "Thank you."
They picked their way forward a few more steps. The parking lot wasn't yet in sight; the path seemed to stretch on forever, barren trees capped with snow on one side and white hills on the other, before it took a bend into the brush.
"Phoenix," the other whispered. They'd dropped the formalities of last names and titles years ago.
"Hm?" He kept his eyes on the path. He knew he didn't need to turn his head to let him know that he was listening.
Hershel's voice was quiet. "I fear that...perhaps...we won't be able to meet here again."
It was an innocuous statement, probably perfectly innocent to a stranger, had anyone else been there to hear it. But Phoenix knew him well enough and could hear the tremble in his voice and see the tears in his eyes to know what he meant.
He knew. He'd long since been past discomfort with the idea, but it still made his heart ache. Time, distance, and country borders might separate them temporarily, but only the end of the world could keep them from eventually winding up back here again...that, or…
He suddenly felt the weight of the tiredness in his body, how worn out the both of them were, not just from walking, and the heaviness of his friend's statement.
He was right. At some point, Phoenix would have to fly home. It may be months before he afford another ticket to be back in this spot...and by then…
Well. They weren't getting any younger.
"Maybe," was all he said in return.
The professor took a few more steps and halted. Phoenix, leaning on his arm, had to stop with him. The smaller man looked up, and Phoenix read the expression between the wrinkles on his face; a mixed one of weariness, melancholy, and great understanding, not just of the reality of their situation—but of Phoenix, as a friend knows a friend.
He resisted any hesitation and leaned down and hugged him, steadying himself on the cane. Hershel would never have let anyone see them like this before—well, but that was in the past, and there was no one to see on this snowy day.
He could feel Hershel's hands on his back through the thermal coat, and the professor lifted his chin up onto Phoenix's shoulder, his jaw trembling.
Phoenix smiled in empathy, pressing his free hand into the professor's back. He understood. He'd always understand, even if nothing was said.
"I've enjoyed our chats, Hershel," he said. It fell painfully short.
Hershel gave a small huff of a laugh and pulled away from the embrace, still holding on to Phoenix's arms. "You've been a marvelous friend," he said.
It wasn't so much what was said as what was meant. You can't cram a lifelong friendship into a few words; they knew better than to try.
And after a pause, they continued down the path, frozen tears stinging their cheeks.
Hershel dabbed his eyes gently with the sleeve of his coat, though it didn't do much, soaked as it was with snow. "Grant me a boon," he requested quietly.
Phoenix nodded. "Anything." There was little he could do anymore, for sure, but Hershel knew this. There wasn't much he'd ask for nowadays anyway.
By some miracle, his voice was still slow and steady. "If I am the first to go...take Luke to see this place."
Phoenix felt a pang in his chest, though not a physical one. He smiled in spite of it, but only through a valiant effort. "Only if you take all of mine if I go first." His voice was getting hoarse.
Hershel chuckled warmly, despite everything. "It's a deal."
They walked on. Phoenix couldn't decide whether he'd rather uphold the promise or have it upheld for him. He'd miss this old chap, either way.
"I can't guarantee I won't cry," he said lightly, but he meant it.
"Neither can I," answered Hershel.
They laughed. The sentiment was understood.
They rounded the bend, and the car was in sight now, the only one in the quiet lot—its roof collecting snow, just like everything else in sight.
"Well..." Phoenix said slowly, "if not sooner, then..." He leaned fully on his cane, turned to his life-long friend with the best semblance of his old charismatic smile, ignoring the pricking at the corners of his eyes, and extended his hand. "See you on the other side?"
Hershel smiled up at him warmly like his face would break. He shook it firmly. "I look forward to it. Wherever we find ourselves."
It was still a little ways to the lot. Phoenix watched his step carefully in the snow. He tried to keep up, though he knew Hershel was slowing down for him.
There was a pause before he found his voice.
"Love you, Hersh."
Another pause, and only the sound of snowflakes falling.
"I love you too."
A/N: I'm not even gonna ask for reviews because nobody's gonna read this but Candaru and me
Hahahahahaha I haven't even played these games why