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Fresh Start
Ben/Claudia
Rated PG

For [livejournal.com profile] jrmstoughchick for the [livejournal.com profile] farscape_land Trick or Treat challenge!



"My marriage is over." Ben announces over a double shot of whiskey on the rocks. He's looking down at his drink instead of at Claudia.

Suddenly, the reason for drinks seems perfectly clear. She understands so well, so perfectly well, what he's feeling right now. "Well, you lasted longer than me."

It's a cold comfort, but it's not really meant to be comfort at all. What is there to say? "Yeah. Twenty years. Damn."

She reaches out and rests a hand over his.

*

They stand in the hallway in front of his hotel room. He looks at her in a way that makes her tingle, in a way he hasn't looked at her in a very long time. "I kept thinking, all this past week, kept thinking... if I'd known it was going to end like this anyway, I probably would have..."

She understands in a flash, gets it so clearly. She thinks of her boys, her sons, spending the weekend with their father while she's here making appearances. "No. I'm glad you didn't. I'm glad we didn't."

He nods. "I know. I'm not saying- well, it's not like we could change it anyway. But damn, Claud. We were so good, we played by all the rules, for so long."

His eyes meet hers and it's more than just a tingle, it's an electric crackle, because he's right. They knew what was there between them and how much potential it had, and they'd studiously ignored and repressed and denied until they had a handle on it. They made a game of it, long looks and accidental touches, and taken advantage of what the job called for them to do to the point where it toed the line but they'd never, never crossed it. Finally, she says to him, "You were a good husband."

"Yeah. And you were a good wife."

She crooks a smile. "For all the good that did me."

"You two still get along. That's pretty good." He shrugs. "It's not your fault he cheated."

She ignores the second part and responds to the first. "Well, as far as divorces go, I suppose we did manage it all right. It was important to us, for the boys."

He nods. "That's the only reason Francesca and I stayed together this long. It's been over for a while. Couple years, at least. But we kept up the pretense for the kids. But one in high school, the other in college... I think she realized we were just killing time now. She wants a chance to do more with her life. I can't really blame her. She spent two decades raising my kids while I had a career."

"So there wasn't..." Claudia trails off. She doesn't want to rub it in his face if there was an affair, but she's curious.

"Someone else? No. I don't think so. I'd know." He doesn't sound entirely certain, and she's suddenly sorry for bringing that concept into his mind. She reaches out and puts a hand on his shoulder, accustomed to the tactile comfort that is her style, but he wasn't expecting it and it startles him.

"I'm sorry-" She starts to pull her hand away and he grabs it. "No. I'm just - don't know why, I'm jumpy tonight. Nervous. Feel like something's gonna jump out at me."

She gives him an understanding smile and waits a few beats, but he's still not let go of her hand. His palm is slightly clammy against hers, his skin overly warm.

"Ben..."

"I signed the papers yesterday." He looks at her with those clear eyes, a little bit hoping and a little bit pleading and her heart jumps into her throat. "I'm not married anymore. Come in for a drink."

"We've just had a drink." She squeezes his fingers with hers. "We've had a few drinks, and you said it yourself - you just signed the papers yesterday. I won't come in tonight, but ask me again in a few weeks."

The rejection resounds, even with her attempts to soften it, and she can see something in his expression crumbling. She can't stand to do that to him, so she moves on impulse. She leans forward, her other hand on his chest. The hallway is deserted and he's looking at her so sad and so wanting. She moves up and in quickly and presses a kiss to his mouth. It's short, barely more than a peck, but it's her and it's him and there are no flashing cameras and that makes it so, so much more.

*

She doesn't hear from him for a couple of weeks and it's easy to assume that he woke up the next morning and regretting what he'd asked her. It stings, but Claudia's got a busy life and it's easy to push aside the might have been, the lingering regret at turning away from something that she'd wanted.

And she had wanted it. She's wanted him for a decade and a half almost, a low grade yearning that never quite goes away. Little things remind her of him and it all rushes back, little moments she'd like to share with him.

Then her phone rings and she sees his number.

"Hello, stranger," she says when she answers.

He speaks so quickly that he almost cuts off her greeting. "Have dinner with me."

Her mouth drops open and she starts to speak, stops, then starts again. "All right."

"Really?"

"Really. When?"

"Why wait? Pick me up in an hour." She hangs up the phone with a smile.
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