Claimer: All MINE. No takey my characters. Unless you really, really want to and ask my permission. But I don't foresee that problem. :D

Wait...Disclaimer: I have nothing to do with the song "Being There", from which the title obviously derives, or any of the movies listed within the contents of this story. Okay.


being there

[of stumbling into sunlight and dancing in the rain]

His fingers slide across the keys, graceful as figure skaters on ivory-coated ice, occasionally slipping onto smooth ebony ridges before retreating to the snow-sleek valleys in between.

He chuckles at his thoughts, at the poetic tangent they've tumbled down. Sometimes it seems that he can't ever stop thinking, even when he wants to, even when he wants nothing more than to drift in the swell of crescendos and arpeggios and be lulled to sleep by soft, final strains.

Gray light streams through floor-length windows, spilling liquid half-shadow on the cool tile. It is a light that does not so much illuminate as blur, soaking the color from this already monochrome room and rendering it in the false, deceptive haze of dawn.

He does not mind the gray, his skillful fingers trickling like rain across the piano keys. It is not raining yet, and for that he is inwardly grateful; he has never liked the rain. It is too cold, even in summer, and the soaking wet only reminds him that he is trapped inside this house as much as he sometimes feels trapped inside his head.

Prisoner of his own illusions, walls of his own making. But he's waxing poetic again.

"Someone's here to see you."

The voice, quiet, familiar, floats on the silence hovering behind the plaintive and sad melody drifting from the open lid of the black grand piano. He does not bother to turn, but his fingers fumble on the keys in his vague surprise—his elder sister is the one who spoke, but who could be visiting him? He resumes his song, though, and the stumble goes unnoticed to all ears except his own, which chastise him for his neglect.

After a heartbeat or three, he does deign to glance over his shoulder, and his hands pause once more.

A girl stands in the doorway, and he lets his eyes skim her form. She's wearing a yellow t-shirt, and her red bandanna is wrapped securely around one wrist, and her bluer-than-blue eyes are fixed on him in a soft and maybe even affectionate way, but he doesn't really know what that looks like to confirm.

Instead he thinks that she's full of primary colors, like a child's crayon attempt at portraying the world before it discovers that the box contains shades of gray.

And maybe some of that color bleeds into his overcast world because he relaxes marginally. She is comfortable, somehow, like a well-worn pair of jeans. If a person's existence could be rumpled, hers would be, and he should feel awkward next to her with all his neat angles and straight lines, but he can't quite conjure the self-disgust.

How do you dissuade this? he wants to ask her, but his lips never move. How do you make me belong, if only for a too-brief moment?

She's still waiting in the doorway, but there is nothing hesitant about her stillness, and he fleetingly envies her ability to recline while standing erect.

She smiles faintly, a much subtler version of her usual sunny expression. "I didn't know you played piano," she remarks, a note of teasing annoyance in her tone, as if she's disturbed on some level that he did not bequeath such personal information.

He does not reply right away, too caught up in another inner tangent, his eyes tracing the blonder strands in her hair. Sunny smiles, sunstreaked hair—maybe this is why he has never coped with the rain.

Maybe he has always loved the sun.

"You never asked," he finally says, dragging his ice-blue eyes away from her summer-sky ones. It is a petulant, childish sort of answer, but he knows it holds water between them. He never divulges anything without prompting, and she ought to know that.

No, he corrects himself, she knows that. Of course she does.

She hums, a noncommittal sort of sound, and for a moment he is surprised because such a reaction is far more like him than her. Except there is lilting emotion in hers, a breezy dismissal, and it is not the reluctant grunt he favors so often. And he listens to the quiet noise of her shoes on the tile as she strolls over to him, and without looking, he has a feeling her hands are tucked nonchalantly in her pockets, her perpetually windblown hair probably slipping loose across her face.

Warmth blossoms against his arm as she sits next to him on the small bench, the bare skin of her arm pressing against his, and he almost flinches at the unfamiliar contact. She reaches out with slender, beringed fingers and skims the keys.

"I never learned," she begins, tracing the short slope of the F sharp. "Always appreciated music; never too inclined to perform it, though."

She shrugs, and he feels the gesture in his upper arm as her shoulder nudges deeper into his.

Words spring unbidden from his lips, and he winces at their tone.

"What are you doing here?"

She casts him a sidelong glance, her eyes partially obscured by her hair before she runs a hand through it, combing it back off her forehead and letting it slide into pleasant disarray. And she shrugs again, less in ambiguity and more to impress her ease with the situation, even if his voice was rather curt.

"I thought I'd drop by. We've been friends for awhile now, and it occurred to me that I'd never been over."

Friends. The term drops so casually from her lips, as if she sincerely believes it.

He processes that for a minute, his fingers ghosting on the black and white as he thinks. "You invited yourself over?" he queries, still not used to her absolute comfort with everything to imagine such a thing.

"More or less, I suppose," she agrees, unbothered by the implications of impoliteness. "I knew you wouldn't, Piano Man," she adds lightly, teasingly. Another nudge of her arm against his, joking now. "So what were you playing when I got here? It was…sad, almost."

"Being There," he replies automatically; this is an easy one, he thinks. "By Tord Gustavsen."

"Being there," she echoes, and he can tell by her mere inflection that it's the phrase and not the title. "Odd that it sounds so lonely, then."

He is momentarily at a loss. At length he admits, "I suppose so."

"Or maybe," she continues, ruminating now, "it's about silent companionship. About just being there, and not saying anything or doing anything. Simply together. Hmm." There's that hum again, this one more contemplative. "Maybe it's more wistful than anything," she concedes, "but I can't quite remember how it goes. Play it again."

To his dull surprise, his fingers dutifully dance across the keys, painting the blue melody in the gray air. Without looking at her, he can still tell, somehow, that she's listening attentively, endeavoring to memorize the flow. He decides that he likes it—this warm, alive presence at his side—and he is reluctant to lift his hands at the song's close.

Her eyes are shut, lashes skimming her cheeks, and it almost looks as if she's lost in a dream before her lids ease up, revealing untarnished cobalt once more. "You play beautifully," she says, and there is genuine admiration in her voice.

His cheeks feel a little hot, and he focuses intently on the keys beneath his now-still hands. He wants to thank her for the compliment, for that real belief she's always held in him that has somehow translated to this moment in time, but he can't quite shape the words.

He wonders briefly if he can find the notes that match the pitches of thank you's usual inflection, but he finds that he doesn't remember how it sounds.

She doesn't seem to mind his silence, perhaps because she truly is unbothered, but probably because she is simply too distracted by the raindrops beginning to tap against the tall glass.

"Oh, it's raining!" she exclaims, and he marvels at the sheer excitement in her tone and the even more pronounced glee on her face when she turns to him. "C'mon—let's go!"

And she leaps to her feet, snagging onto his sleeve.

He stares up at her, vaguely bewildered, and it takes him a second to recover himself. "Go…where?" he asks, brow furrowing beneath his dark hair.

"Outside, silly," she laughs, tugging on his shirt again.

He waits a heartbeat before saying slowly, "But it's raining outside." Hadn't she just pointed that out?

She's grinning now, and she shakes her head at his lack of understanding. "Exactly," she returns, and her eyes stray to the windows, watching the water slip down the panes. "It'll be warm, too—it's nice outside. You'll have fun, I promise."

"Wait." He raises one eyebrow suspiciously. "You want to go outside and play in the rain? What are we, five years old?"

There is derision in his tone, but once again she skims over it without a stumble. "Yeah, give or take a decade," she giggles, and before he can stop her, she's let go of him and jogged to the door leading out to the yard and stepped out into the summer shower. She tilts her head back, water streaming down her face and soaking through her clothes, and laughs at the gray skies, half in defiance and half in near-tangible joy.

He finds that he has risen to his feet and reached the threshold, even though he can't properly remember the short journey between the door and the piano. He glances up at the clouds, as if expecting them to relent, and then lowers his eyes back to her. She spins around once, arms outstretched like a child playing airplane, and shoots him a dazzling, rain-streaked smile.

"Come on already!" she invites, and she is so alive that he is nearly struck breathless. "You're missing out on all the fun!"

"Aren't you cold?" he queries, fishing for an excuse.

She snorts, flicking droplets from the tip of her nose. "Hardly. I told you it'd be warm, and it is." And then she approaches him, and before he can grab hold of the doorframe to prevent her next maneuver, she's hauled him into the yard.

The rain patters on his head and shoulders, drenching those parts first and slowly dampening the rest of him; he shakes his head slightly, removing wet clumps of hair from his eyes. It is warm, and he is surprised that it is not quite as uncomfortable as he had feared. His clothes feel heavy as they become waterlogged, but the drops are almost pleasant on his bare skin.

His tongue flicks out, lapping rain from his lips, and he realizes that he rather likes the taste.

She grabs onto his hand, and he is temporarily embarrassed before she pipes, "Twirl me!" He raises their clasped hands a bit numbly, and she spins around without any real help from him, still grinning ear to ear with a smile that would put the sun to shame.

"Don't look so gloomy," she insists, twirling again, faster this time. Her long hair whips around, scattering drops in a wide arc. "I'm going to make you smile, I swear I am. I just need to find a puddle."

He doesn't quite follow that, idly thankful that his watch is waterproof. He simply arches his eyebrow again, communicating his confusion.

"To jump in, of course," she says with good-natured exasperation. "What else are puddles for?"

"It's only just begun raining," he points out, indicating the lack of puddles.

She huffs and settles her hands on her hips, and something about the motion draws his attention to the way her shirt is clinging to her skin, and he swallows and focuses on a point above her shoulder.

"I know that," she returns haughtily. "Patience, young grasshopper." And then her grin broadens and she adds in a deeper, more masculine tone, "Puddles will come, Ray."

A smile flickers at the corners of his lips, the kind of smile that's called into existence by bad puns or, in this case, random movie quotes. "It's people will come," he corrects pointlessly, needing a distraction lest he full-out grin.

She waves a dismissive hand. "Same diff," she quips, and she turns from him, clearly hunting for fledgling puddles.

He watches her prowl about the yard, unaware of the quiet smile that has barely curved his mouth. He dimly remembers that he usually hates the rain, but at this second, with this company, he can't quite recall why.

"Aha! Found one! Take that, you nonbeliever!" she goads from the corner of the house, where the downspout has contributed to the rain's progress. As he approaches, still not entirely certain why he's doing any of this, she jumps into the puddle and splashes water all the way up to her hips, soaking her jeans thoroughly to the knees. She laughs, a bright peal of laughter, and hops up and down, making smaller explosions in the water's surface.

And then he has reached her side, and before he can protest, she has snatched his hand and pulled him into the puddle. It floods his shoes, and he grimaces as his socks suffer the consequences, but then she's bouncing again, and it's difficult not to play along. So he gives a half-hearted hop, staining the denim darker with the wet.

"You can do it!" she encourages, still giggling. "Just like jumping on the bed!"

He casts her an askance look. "I never jumped on my bed."

For a moment, she looks horrified. "Oh, you poor, poor boy," she says solemnly, but she can't keep up the façade, and she breaks down in laughter again.

The sound is infectious, and when she jumps this time, he finds himself jumping with her, and his uncertainly amused chuckles swell into real laughter, deep and rich and shoulder-shaking. Soon he is bent over, his hands gripping his thighs for support as he laughs so hard it's nearly impossible to breathe.

"Told you you'd have fun!" she crows triumphantly, throwing her hands up in the air in a clear gesture of victory.

And he is giddy with happiness, overwhelmed with the unbridled feeling, and before he realizes what he is doing, he is pulling her close and pressing his lips firmly to hers. She melts in his embrace, fingers fisting in his soaked shirt, and when she kisses him back, he realizes absently that she tastes like rain.

But then he blinks, and she's still standing a few feet away from him, her arms lowered to horizontal and her face tipped back again. His laughter is quelled, and he glances away. All girls may want to be kissed in the rain, but he isn't sure about her wanting him to be the one to do it.

"You have a nice laugh," she remarks, still basking in the rain like any normal person would in the sun. "You should bring it out more often; it might get dusty otherwise."

He has nothing to say, too unsettled by the route his imagination had taken, and so he simply slips his hands into his sodden pockets and blinks droplets from his eyelashes. She seems to notice the change in his mood, as she studies him in concerned silence for a long moment before she brushes past him, saying, "Meh, that's enough for one day. I vote for dry clothes. You?"

He doesn't answer the probably rhetorical question, instead just following her back into the house. He leads the way to the linen closet, where he takes two fluffy towels, and then continues on to his bedroom. He walks inside, making sure the door doesn't rebound back onto her, and immediately begins rummaging through his dresser for spare clothing.

She glances around, taking in the modest furnishings—if king-sized beds and flat-screen televisions could ever fit under the category of modest. But it is all simply designed, lacking frills or detailing, all darkly stained wood and white walls.

"Ever hear of paint?" she asks teasingly as he places two sets of clothing on the dresser.

"It is painted," he points out, slinging his towel over his shoulder.

"Ever hear of colored paint?" she shoots back, smirking.

He simply holds out her borrowed outfit. "Just put your wet stuff on the dresser," he instructs. "Once you're done changing, I'll put it in the dryer, and it'll be done in an hour or so."

"Aye aye, Captain!" she says, snapping a salute and stifling a laugh at the half-strength glare he sends her.

He merely steps around her, padding back to the door, and leans against the wall in the hallway, staring uninterestedly at the ceiling. He only has a minute at most to wait before she reopens the door, her wet clothing bundled in her hands.

"I didn't want to get the wood all wet," she explains, hefting the condensed pile. "Can't be good for it."

"Er, no," he concedes. He slips by her and closes the door, tugging off his heavy shirt and heavier jeans as quickly as he can. Toweling off, he pulls on the dry outfit and reclaims his soiled garments from the dresser before damage can be done.

She is pacing in a loose circle when he emerges, humming softly to herself. He beckons her to follow, and together they head to the laundry room, which is some way away, especially considering the size of the manor. She is still humming snatches of a song, and he wonders idly if she's ever not upbeat—prays in the next instant that he never has to witness it.

The dryer hums a tune of its own as he turns it on, and there is a moment of silence as he regards her and she plays with her too-long sleeves.

"So, um…" he begins, rather at a loss.

"Got any warm beverages?" she suggests, glancing up at him from behind scattered strands of her still-wet hair.

Several minutes later, they recline on the couch in the living room; he sits properly on his cushion while she parks herself cross-legged and partially facing him, sipping her cocoa. She clearly relishes the taste, making a quiet noise of contentment in the back of her throat, and he resists the urge to wipe the dab of whipped cream from her nose.

"You have…" he half-says, indicating the spot with a tap to his own nose.

She wipes it off, considers for a moment, then licks it off her finger. He looks away from her, staring at the shelves of DVDs arrayed around the television. She's doing funny things to his composure, finding and exploiting all the little chinks he'd left unsealed in his walls, and the worst part is that he's not entirely sure he cares. There's something pleasant about the air that leaks through.

"Can't believe you chose coffee over cocoa," she muses at length. "And black coffee, too—it's not even sweet."

"I don't like sweet things," he replies blandly, even though some part of his mind contradictingly points out that he certainly likes her.

She considers this gravely for a moment. "You are a sad, strange little man," she finally says wryly.

He glances at her sidelong. "What is with you and movie quotes?"

She grins, flashing white teeth. "At least you know that they're movie quotes at all. Although I have some difficulty imagining you watching Toy Story. Field of Dreams, not as much."

He gestures towards the expansive DVD collection in reply; she follows the motion and nods sagely. But then her brow crumples slightly, and he decides pensive looks alien on her face, as strange as if her eyes had suddenly become brown instead of blue.

"I guess you have lots of free time, don't you? To watch movies, I mean," she adds. "Your parents are still out east, right?"

"My sister's here," he points out, taking a sip of the bitter liquid and savoring its subtleties.

"Isn't she a nurse, though?" she says, hardly making it a question, but she waits for him to nod. "So she's got weird hours, then, and probably lots of them. This house must get lonely, all big and empty."

He pauses, feeling as if he's on the brink of revealing too much, but finally concedes, "I don't mind. I enjoy solitude. Don't knock it till you've tried it," he adds, a bit more defensively.

"I'm not," she promises. "I like a bit of alone-time, too. But always? That must get you down."

Again, he weighs the outcomes, and this time chooses to say, "I really don't mind."

She concedes that with a shrug and noisily slurps some of the whipped cream off her cocoa.

He bites his tongue as it itches to say more, like that sometimes he finds himself staring blankly at a wall and thinking too much, and won't she come over often to keep him company, even if he's not the most entertaining host on the planet? And would she please stop being so nice and charming and friendly and stop looking so disarmingly beautiful because he really wants to kiss her now and is half-afraid that he'd actually be capable of falling for her.

Because he likes his monochromatic world and its shades of gray, and he's terrified what color might do. Especially colors like hers, bold and bright and primary and impossible to ignore.

She shifts slightly, and some of her hair slips across her forehead, partially covering one eye. She doesn't seem to mind, still gazing across the room at nothing in particular, and he wants to tuck the strands behind her ear and wishes she would smile and laugh and talk again. He might be scared of the colors, but he cannot deny that he likes her bubbly chatter and does not entirely miss the silence it replaces.

He tries to initiate conversation, but the words crowd his throat and block each other, and ultimately his own uncertainty keeps them all at bay.

She doesn't seem to mind that, either. In fact, as he studies her as surreptitiously as possible, he realizes that even without her usual bright smile, she looks content, utterly at ease. He wishes he had her talent for fitting in everywhere and never once appearing uncomfortable, but at the same time he is thankful and a little intrigued. Perhaps he wouldn't mind sharing a silence or two with her.

Perhaps there didn't need to be words.

His cup has been empty for some time and she is swirling the thickest remnants around the bottom of hers when he checks his watch and points out that their laundry should be done. She bobs her head, shoving partially dry, layered locks from her face, and follows him throughout the big, empty manor once again. He lets her dress in the laundry room this time; he keeps his spares on, seeing no reason to change.

They wander back to the piano room, and she scoops up her purse, fishing through it and extracting her phone. It's bright red and he's not really surprised, and he expects she has an equally lively ringtone to match it; his is kept on silent, but it's not as if he receives many calls.

"Oh, damn," she mutters, flipping it open and pressing a few buttons, apparent after a moment to be calling her voicemail. She listens, eyes losing focus, and he waits patiently, one hand resting on the piano's edge. When she finally snaps the phone shut again, he is hoping that the message wasn't left by a boyfriend, even though he can't recall her ever talking about one, and he is not comforted by the realization that he's jumping to conclusions and experiencing jealous, groundless fears.

"That was Mom," she says, making him feel even more foolish. "She wanted to know where I was—I forgot we were having a family dinner tonight. It's my brother's something-or-other."

He nods once, not really to confirm anything as much as for something to do.

"Sooo…" she sighs, hefting the strap of her purse over her head and letting it hang diagonally across her body, "that means I have to run. I'll already be cutting it close."

He nods again, his jaw a little tighter this time. Don't go, he pleads silently.

"Sorry to just bail on you like this," she continues, sounding sincerely apologetic, but adds more brightly, "at least it's stopped raining, eh? My jeans are a little stiff as it is!" She kicks one leg in demonstration, laughing softly.

He remembers that he laughed in the rain, but he can't quite summon the memory now, and he remains taciturn.

"Maybe I'll stop by later this week," she says after a moment of thought. "Hell, maybe you'll teach me how to play this thing." And she raps her knuckles on the keyboard's lowered cover.

A smile flirts with the corners of his lips, almost an expression. "Maybe I will," he agrees, shifting his stance so that the bundled clothes are held more securely under his arm.

She grins and, to his pleasure and surprise, gives his hand a quick squeeze. "I'm holding you to that!" she calls back to him as she disappears into the hallway.

He listens until her footsteps die away completely, and then he sits on the bench, setting the clothes beside him. Carefully lifting the cover, he slides his fingers over the keys in a familiarizing sort of gesture before he applies pressure.

Being there, he thinks, the ghost of a smile returning. Yeah. Just being there.

fin.