***Hey all,

This chapter, Bishop Takes the Queen Ch. 2, then Ben loves a challenge chapter 15 will all be coming out relatively back to back, and should be read in that order for the whole story, they will overlap. Or, read them however you'd like. Hope you enjoy. Only a few chapters of Ben Loves a Challenge left, I really hope you've enjoyed these boys and their story.

-Penny**

"What'd you get Dean for Christmas?" Aisha asked him a little after he got back from lunch with Dean.

"Hmm?" he asked, only half listening as he worked.

"Christmas. It's in a few days, what'd you get Dean?"

He gagged on the sip of coffee he'd taken. "Shit. I didn't, I mean, I'm not, I didn't, with my mom not talking to me, I really didn't even think about it. God, what a fucking dick I am. Shit, Aisha, I have no idea what to get him. Did he say something? Did he get me something? What should-"

"Woah, Ben," Aisha said, holding her hands up in front of her body. "He didn't say anything, you know he only barely tolerates me still. I was just wondering."

"That's not true."

Aisha laughed. "We both know it is."

"He's jealous, that's all," Ben dismissed.

"Don't sweat it, Ben," she dismissed. "I think it's cute. Anyway, back to the main story. Christmas."

He inhaled sharply. "Fuck, Aisha, I've been so busy at work, and so tied up with the family drama, that I didn't even think about getting Dean something. I'm literally the worst boyfriend ever." He ended his statement with a long sigh.

Aisha sniffed. "As if. You're Dean's dream come true. He'd probably melt in your hands if you gift wrapped your dong for him."

He flushed. "Shut it, you!"

She laughed. "It's nice that I can still make you blush. You still have time, Christmas isn't for five days, and you don't have to celebrate it on the actual day. It's just a date. But, he's gonna want some type of token of your affection."

"You think so? Dean's weirdly picky when it comes to PDA."

"Ben, seriously? He wants you to get him something, if not for any other reason than it proves you still love him."

Ben felt sick. "You think he doesn't think I love him?"

Aisha rolled her eyes, then grabbed her long braid and began playing with the brushy end. "Of course not, but he's the type that needs to test every brick of the bridge before he crosses it. And even then, he'll probably check every brick on his way back, too."

He deflated. "You're right, of course you're right. What do I get him?"

Aisha looked up to the ceiling, pursing her lips to one side as she considered. "Is there anything you guys have talked about trying but haven't?"

"Like, um, huh?"

"In bed, Ben. What does he wanna do that he's afraid to ask for?"

A knot began to form in his stomach. "Jesus, Aisha!"

She shrugged. "Or, just get him some action figures or something. I'm just spitballing here."

He knew what he wanted, but he was too afraid to ask, or even think it too hard. "Nothing. I dunno. Shit."

She narrowed her eyes at him. "You do know. What are you thinking?"

He shook his head. "Nothing, nothing. Nevermind, it's stupid."

"Not stupid, tell me and I'll tell you if it's stupid." She was using the tip of her braid to brush over the back of her other hand. She looked up and locked eyes with him. "I can tell it's important to you."

"It is stupid, we've only been dating two months. It's super stupid. Just, let's drop it." He turned away from her, back to his work.

"It's not stupid if it's bothering you this much. Spill it, Ben. You know I have my ways," she threatened. He knew it wasn't a threat, but a promise. She was very, very good at getting what she wanted.

"This's why you're so good at your other job, isn't it?" he asked, dodging the question.

She blew a stray strand of hair from her face. "Of course it is, but that's neither here nor there right now. What did you want to give Dean?"

He hesitated, but she was intent on waiting him out. "It's not so much something I'm giving..." he eventually said.

"You're gonna propose?" she hissed, leaning closer to him as she lowered her voice. "Arey, Ben!"

"Shush!" he hissed, leaning closer to her, then realizing what that might look like to their more nosy coworkers who were still bewildered by an openly gay couple in the office. "No, I'm not proposing."

"Then what?" she gasped. "You're killing me!"

"I, ah. God, it's so stupid, Aisha. Nevermind."

"Bennnnn," she whined. "Tell me! I'll be the judge of if it's stupid."

He chewed on the inside of his lip. "Shit. He's not, I mean, it's so stupid."

"You've said that a few times now," she noted.

"Fine, you're right." He took a deep breath before he continued, steeling himself for her disapproval. " It's not exactly a Christmas present, but Dean's lease is up at the end of February and I was thinking about asking him if he'd-"

"Okay, yeah, gonna stop you right there. Part of me is squeeing on the inside, but did you think this through? Like, there's a certain amount of space between you two right now that will disappear when he moves in. Are you prepared for that?"

"You said when. So, it's not a stupid idea?" he asked, his heart caught up on her tense.

She sighed, twirling her braid around her fingers. "So, yes and now. Like, Yes, it's stupid because you two barely know each other. He's... challenging, right? Like, maybe this would be moving too fast for him?"

Ben bit his bottom lip. "I just, I know it's too soon, but the timing seems right and... I don't wanna..." He sighed. "I told you it's stupid."

"It's not stupid," she chided. "It's just, you're still so new to this. You haven't been in a serious relationship in a while, and I'm betting you moved too fast in your last one, too. You're really a romantic, Ben. It's kinda cute, in an annoying way."

He rolled his eyes, returning to his computer screen. "Thanks for the vote of confidence, Aisha."

"I meant it in the best way possible," she insisted. "It's endearingly annoying."

"I'll just add that to my resume, 'four years experience in mid-level program development, personal traits include endearingly annoying.' Sounds great."

She sniffed. "Good. I'm sure you'll get lots of calls. By the way, I didn't actually let you finish. I wanna make sure that you were talking about asking Dean to move into your house and not something else."

"What else could there be after that?"

She shrugged. "I dunno. You two are both weird, perfect for each other. Think about it, though. Don't just barrel in head first like you normally do."

"I don't know how not to," he admitted.

"You haven't yet," she said, pursing her lips to the side. "Do you have a spare room?"

"I have a three bedroom house, Aisha. For one man."

She nodded. "And bathrooms?"

"Um, one and a half?"

She nodded again. "So, logistically it would work. It all just depends on Dean. Oh, and you should still get him a Christmas present. You're right, this isn't a present."

"I know, I know. Maybe I could ask his best friend, but he'd probably tell Dean I asked, and then Dean might be upset that I did. I dunno. It's so hard to read him sometimes. Every time I think I have him down he surprises me with something else."

"Then maybe it's not a good time to have him move in? Like, what if it ruins it?"

"Wow, pessimist much?" He rolled his chair back around to face her. "But, if it doesn't, then it wasn't meant to be, right? If we can't live together, we aren't meant for each other."

"Are you ready to give Dean up?"

"Hell no," he hissed. "But still, if he's the one for me, we need to be able to live together, right?"

"You're a lost cause, you know that?" she said. "But, so is Dean, so maybe it'll all be okay." She got up and put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed gently. "You're gonna do what you're gonna do, I know you enough by now to try to stop you. So, just, you know. Be careful."

She walked out of his cubicle and he returned to work, distracted as he over thought their conversation. "Oh," she called softly over his cubicle. "Maybe have him stay with you a bunch of nights in a row. Like, over Christmas break? Like, trial period? We have a whole week between Christmas and New Year's off, see if he wants to do a week-long slumber party?"

"That's actually a really good idea," he agreed. She smiled, then ducked back into her cubicle. He spent the rest of the afternoon thinking about how he was going to ask Dean to stay over, but nothing good came to mind. He gave up trying to be subtle and decided to go over and just pick Dean up so they could leave together.

He wandered through the hallway up to the second floor where Dean's department was. He spotted Dean, who had headphones in, his back to Ben, but was intercepted by the intern. He tried to dodge the kid and head straight to Dean, but the kid was fast.

"Mr. Kazmarak asked that no one interrupt him," the kid said, looking uncomfortable.

"I'm not no one," Ben noted. "What's he doing?"

"Half of HR clicked on some type of email phishing link or something and now there's a virus in the system that he's working on containing." The intern looked over his shoulder. "Him, Bryan and Melinda are all staying until they at least get it contained, and I'm here to make sure they don't get interrupted."

"Lucky you," he said, depressed that his not-a-plan was already falling apart. "How long do you think it'll be?"

The intern shrugged. "Dunno. Department head approved OT for them, so I'm guessing until they are finished."

Ben looked down at his watch, then up at Dean's back. He was nodding his head, he must be listening to music, and Ben could see that he was in the zone. He sighed. "Yeah. Sure. Do you think they'll be here past dinner?"

The kid shrugged. "Dunno dude."

"Yeah. Thanks," he said, then turned and left. He sent Dean a text, then drove home, unsurprised to find Dean hadn't read his text yet. An hour went by, then two, then three and Dean still hadn't read his text. Ben wondered if Dean had dinner, or would even break for dinner. He knew the answer to that, though. Dean would work through, neglecting himself.

He ordered some lasagna, then ordered a full plate of spaghetti and meatballs, eggplant parmesan, two loaves of garlic bread, and a pepperoni stromboli, and picked it all up on the way back to work. Ben wasn't surprised to see the lights still on in Dean's part of the office even though it was past seven now. He grabbed his bags of food and let himself into the building.

It was kind of creepy at night, with just security lighting on. It had him moving a bit quicker. He took the steps two at a time, then found himself outside of the IT office, the door closed, which was unusual. He tried the handle and it swung open.

The office was silent with the exception of the clicking of keyboards and mice, the three IT folks all working quietly at their own stations. Ben didn't want to scare them, so he knocked on the door, but no one looked. They were all wearing headsets, locked to their computers. He knocked louder and they still didn't hear him.

He shrugged, then stepped into the office, putting the bags of food down on the receptionist's desk before heading straight for Dean. He put his hand on Dean's shoulder and his boyfriend yipped, flinching reflexively.

"Fuck, Ben," he growled, obviously annoyed at being interrupted. "You scared the shit outta me."

"I knocked, but you all have headphones on so no one heard me. Sorry." He was backing away, Dean's annoyance reminding him of Aisha's words earlier.

"Why're you here?" Dean asked, running his hands through his hair, knocking his bulky headphones from his ears, the echo of a techno bassline escaping as they fell to his lap.

"I, ah, brought you dinner. All of you, I figured you hadn't eaten, and wouldn't stop, at least you, I don't know the other two very well." He looked up and saw Melinda watching him. She looked away quickly when she saw he was looking. He shrugged. "Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you or anything."

Dean looked over at the food that Ben had nodded to, then back to him. "Oh. Yeah. Um, thanks. I'm in the middle of something, I'll eat it later." Ben hesitated and Dean frowned, then sighed. "Did you need money or something?"

"What? No, that's not why I did it, I was just, I mean," he sighed. "Nevermind. Good luck, I'll just, ah, leave the food there and you guys can eat it whenever. Sorry. See ya, Dean. Good luck."

"Okay, thanks," Dean said, dismissing him. He pulled his headphones on and was lost to his computer again almost instantly. He didn't even look up at Ben again.

Well, now he felt stupid and shitty. He turned from Dean and caught Melinda watching him again. She flushed and jerked her head away. It just made him feel even dumber. He left without saying goodbye, feeling like hot garbage as he drove home, wondering what had just happened.

He didn't sleep well, pissed at Dean, and pissed at himself that he still didn't understand Dean. Dean never read his text, and he didn't bother to send another one. He still hadn't read his text when Ben got up in the morning, or when he got to work. He assumed Dean was probably sleeping by now.

"You look like hell," Aisha noted as she ate instant oatmeal out of a disposable coffee cup in his cube.

"Thanks," he said, rolling his eyes. "Feel it."

"Rough night?"

He shrugged. "Nah, I'm just an idiot. Don't really wanna talk about it."

Aisha looked like she was going to say something, then nodded and went back to her cubicle, shocking the shit out of Ben. He almost said something, but didn't. Dean didn't come by to get him and lunch, souring his mood even more. He ate in his cube, microwave popcorn because he didn't have anything else to eat. He'd be damned if he was gonna eat vending machine food in the breakroom where he might run into Justin and Hugh.

The day crawled. At some point Dean read his text, he saw the word 'read' next to his message, but still nothing back from him. Aisha avoided him, looking worried but also understanding that he needed space, which he appreciated, but wasn't in the right state of mind to communicate. He texted Dean, which was read within an hour of him sending it, but still received no response.

His anger turned toxic.

Friday came with still no work from Dean and he was done. He didn't check his phone, in fact he'd left it in his car or he wouldn't have been able to stop himself from compulsively checking it every ten minutes and growing madder each time. Aisha was off, so he didn't have to worry about her either prodding him to talk about it or looking at him with pity in her eyes.

He kind of wished she'd come in today, he really wanted to talk about it, and he also didn't wanna talk about it at all. He was in such a bad mood he couldn't stop himself getting his phone from his car on his break. Still no word from Dean, and it pushed him over the edge as he punched an angry text into Dean's message log. 'Don't worry about our date tonight, it's cancelled since you're too busy for me.'

It was petty and juvenile, but it felt good to send. The second Dean's log said he'd read it he felt shitty, though. He regretted it, but there was no way to take it back. He could delete it, but it wouldn't disappear from Dean's phone. Three little dots came up like Dean was texting him back and his stomach twisted in angry knots. Every time he thought a message was coming the dots stalled out, and after five minutes they stopped with no message from Dean. He growled, barely stopping himself from throwing his phone across his workspace.

Around lunchtime, he'd remembered to pack today, someone knocked on his cubicle wall. He twirled around, ready to snap at anyone who dared disturb him.

It was Melinda, one of Dean's coworkers. He had to hold back, he almost snapped at her for general principals. "Um, hey Ben," she said, looking tired and also shy. "I'm Melinda, I work with Dean."

"I know who you are."

She took a step backwards. "Oh, yeah. I just, ah, came by, wanted to say thanks for dinner the other night."

"Oh. That. Yeah, sure. Whatever."

She frowned. "It's just, you really saved us. We'd already worked through lunch, and then you brought us a little tour of Italy. I just wanted to say thanks, cause no one else thought of us."

"Sure, glad it helped," he said, uncomfortable beyond belief. What did she want from him?

"We ate it for dinner, and also breakfast. By then Max brought us subs, which was nice, too, but I think we all woulda died if you hadn't brought dinner. So, I just wanted to say thanks."

Why wasn't Dean here saying thanks? He bit his cheek so he didn't say it out loud. "Yeah, well, you're welcome. Did you finish? The virus thing?"

"Oh, yeah. Not a virus, though."

"Huh?"

She sucked on her bottom lip, a momentary look of annoyance on her face but it disappeared quickly, replaced with amusement. "Actually, it was ransomware. It's different. From a virus, I mean." Her look reminded him of Aisha and him being endearingly annoying.

"Oh." He didn't know what else to say. "So... you fixed it?"

Shs smiled, then looked down bashfully. "Yeah, we did. It was insane. We worked on it for almost three days straight. Slept in our chairs, or in shifts in our cars."

"What?" he asked. "Why? Was it that critical? Are you even allowed to do that?"

She shrugged. "I mean, kinda. If we didn't fix it it would've started harvesting personal data, deleting important files. Stuff like that. It's all on a timer, too. Tick, tick, tick. It was a bitch, oh, pardon my language." He shrugged it off. "Sorry, I'm super tired and it was crazy hard, like, the hardest thing I've ever done here, but we did it. Dean's really awesome, he kept me and Bryan going, he's like, really amazing."

"Yeah, I know," he said, sighing. His anger was turning into depression, something he hadn't felt in a while. "He is." He sighed again.

"Hey, um?" He looked at her, trying to decide if he cared enough to keep listening. She took it as consent to continue. "He didn't sleep for two days, Ben, not til we got to a part where Bryan and I could take over without him. And even then, he hovered for a while until we forced him to go grab two hours of sleep in his car."

"Oh," Ben said, feeling even shittier for his shitty text. But, in his defense, would it have been so hard to send one measly text?

"He's worried you're pissed at him."

Ben looked up sharply. "Did he tell you that?"

She shook her head. "He talks to himself, when he's real tired."

Ben almost yelled at her that of course he was mad, but he didn't. "Okay. Is that it?"

She hesitated, then backed away again. "Yeah. Just, thanks for the food."

"Sure." She turned to walk away. "Thanks, for, ah, fixing the internet or whatever."

She looked over her shoulder at him and smiled. "All part of the services we provide," she said. The way she said it sounded like an inside joke. She waved to him and then turned the corner, disappearing from his sight. He expected Aisha to slip into his cubicle and was surprised when she didn't until he remembered she was off today.

He tried to text Dean, but he was still upset, unable to trust Melinda as a source of reliable information. Dean still hadn't reached out to him and it pissed him off. He stormed up to the IT department shortly before the end of the day, but it was empty, the lights and computers all off. He wasn't sure why he did it, but he headed to Dean's workspace.

The entire cast of Firefly was lined up under his computer monitor, all of the FunkoPop figurines he'd bought for Dean when he was still trying to convince Dean to give him a chance. He inhaled deeply, then held his breath as he inspected Dean's desk for any other clues that he cared, but found nothing else. His heart hurt, and his head hurt, too, from being angry and upset all day. He turned to leave, but something caught his eye under Dean's keyboard, something shiny.
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Pub: Dec 21 2020 12:51 UTC
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