A Thousand Candles
It's dark, but when he leads her into the room her face lights up his whole day. The floor is filled with small candles, all flickering gently in the dark. He leads her to the picnic blanket laid out in the centre of the room, with the two wine glasses and the bottle of merlot red wine. She's laughing at him, asking him what this is all for. She can't remember being mad at him for anything recently, and he simply shrugs and pours her some wine. She eyes him suspiciously, but sips the wine anyways and decides she should cherish this moment while she has it. Ben is hardly ever romantic of his own volition.
They talk of everything, as is their way when they find that gem of a moment to be together. She tells him of the new tournament on Khoros, how they invited her to play in it. He says she is at a slight disadvantage, you know, because Tetramands have four arms, not two. But she is confident, ever-smiling as she says it wouldn't matter if they had an extra pair of legs to go with their arms, she'd still beat everyone. He tells her of Gwen and Kevin, how his cousin's hair seemed to be going white from all the stress she accumulated in her job as President of Earth, or how Kevin likes yelling at the new recruits in his Plumber Tech shop. He tells her of himself, of the adventures he's taken to other planets, of the fights he's fought on Earth itself.
They talk well into the night, when the both of them should be asleep. But Julie is comfortable on his shoulder, and he likes the smell of her shampoo. The candles have long gone out, and the moonlight is too dim to see well. But Ben is used to the darkness, used to finding a way even when he was blind in more than just the eyes. He searches for her hand, marvelling slightly at how tiny she is compared to him, how he's grown so much since they were sixteen. She's sleeping against him; he recognizes the pattern of her gentle breath. It is now that he takes out the white-gold ring in his pocket, feeling it between his callused fingers. He can barely see it in the moonlight, but he's already memorized everything about it. There wasn't much to remember, it was quite simple as engagement rings went. Gwen and Kevin had argued vehemently with him about the simplicity of it (it didn't even have a diamond!), but he was adamant. He always knew Julie liked simple things. She liked things like this, sharing a bottle of wine in the night, surrounded by the soft glow of a thousand candles, talking to each other. She liked it when he dropped by after hero hours, bringing her chili fries or a smoothie or Japanese mochi just to say hello. Just to find an excuse to say hello.
Ben didn't want to find excuses to see her anymore.
He wants to come home and see her watching TV, see her look up when she hears the door shut, smile at him and say "welcome home". He wants to smile at her through a mouth full of foamy toothpaste, making silly faces while she tries not to laugh and spit all her toothpaste out. He wants her to nag him about throwing his dirty socks all over the place, complaining that he never picks up after himself. He wants to watch her cook in his kitchen that's too big for just him. He wants to see her wear an apron, and burn her finger on a hot stove so he can make it all better. He wants to watch his giant closet fill up with her pink sweaters and tennis skirts and tennis shoes and purses and girly accessories. He wants to fill his king-sized bed with her and him together, side-by-side. He wants to fall asleep feeling her stroke his hair, and wake up looking down at hers.
Her hand is soft and slim, and he turns it over a few times in his hand, running his fingers along her knuckles. The ring is a perfect fit, and he breathes a sigh of relief because he thought for sure he'd gotten her size wrong. But no, it's perfect and she's perfect and together they're even more perfect than Ben realized.
She shifts against him, sighing softly. "Ben?" she murmurs softly, and he hums in reply to let her know he's there. Her cheek falls against his chest. "Did the candles burn out?" she asks him. The smells of the scented candles permeate the room, and they leave small wisps of smoke that blend with the lavender and honeysuckle and cherry blossom. They went out slowly, one by one according to which ones he lighted first and which ones he lighted last.
"Yeah, a few hours ago," he says. She nods absentmindedly. Julie wakes slowly from her light nap, sighing contentedly.
"Thank you for tonight," she whispers to him. "It was really sweet of you."
"It was nothing," he says, grinning. "Just a couple thousand candles; no big deal." Julie laughs throatily. She knows it was more than nothing. He probably asked Gwen for advice, and annoyed Kevin into helping him. Gwen and Kevin probably took over Ben's hero duties for the day so he could set this up. He probably had to ask for a day off too, which is exceptionally difficult for him to do since he's Hero of the Earth.
"A thousand? That's a lot of candles to light," she teases. He doesn't shrug, because it will disturb her position against him, so he just chuckles.
"A thousand's not that much," he boasts quietly. "I can beat a thousand aliens. I probably own a thousand medals. And I've raised an army of more than a thousand soldiers to fight with me. Not to mention I've saved at least a thousand planets—"
"Okay, okay," Julie laughs, cutting him off. "Maybe a thousand isn't that much when you think about it in aliens or planets or medals." She stops there, but Ben senses that there's something else she wants to say. He waits patiently, and he knows that the next time she speaks it won't be a joke anymore. When she's silent and contemplative like this, Ben knows she's not looking for his slapstick humor or his goofy jokes. She's asking him to forgo the happy-go-lucky mask he wears, to show her the soldier for just a moment.
Ben knows she feels the ring on her finger. Julie never wears jewelry; she finds it troublesome to take on and off when she plays tennis, so the foreign feel of it on her finger would be immediately apparent to her. He knows she's looking at it now, as best she can in the dim light. He knows she knows what it is. She plays with it, twisting it around and around her finger, feeling the intricate etchings, the cool metal. It glints faintly in the light, just barely, and she holds her hand up to the moonlight.
"How about a thousand years?" she asks. "Will you love me for a thousand years?"
He kisses her. Because he will love her for much more than that.
A/N And again. I stayed up til four in the morning to write this, no coffee required. Inspired by Christina Perri's music video A Thousand Years, and written to commemorate Ben and Julie's first (real) kiss.