a/n: I'm trying peeps, I'm trying. I'm just slow.
- In which the thug prince, reckless and loyal is he, goes drinking and sort of regrets it (but not really)
The film was bad and awful in a way only a movie that had first been a bad and awful book could be. Still, Austen enjoyed himself thoroughly. A lot of that had to do with the discovery that the thug prince, reckless and loyal is he, was not one of those people who watched movies quietly.
"She's horse-breathing again."
"It's really not that bad."
"Not that bad? Are we watching the same film?"
"His hair just shifted mid-snog. The typhoon from her nostrils literally just moved his hair."
Austen's popcorn bucket upset itself onto the floor, propelled by his laughter. It was the fiftieth time Stephen was complaining about this and yet, each time, Austen prostituted his amusement like he was a nervous first date trying to get a second. He really hoped Stephen didn't think he was being as insincere as that. To him, Stephen the thug prince, nay, Stephen the boy was larger than life. That he should condescend to come to such an unequivocally awful film with him was miracle in itself. That he should also be enjoying himself, though, was an absurdity Austen, in all his wildest dreams, could not have imagined . Like having your cake, eating it, and not getting fat.
So he laughed. Because that's what you did when things were so absurd as that.
Wiping tears from his eyes, he reached for the popcorn bucket which had wedged itself under the seats in front of them. The smell of stale pop-corn and soggy trainers emanated from the grey carpeting, repulsive as it was familiar. Swiping the bucket by its buttery lip, he scrambled back up. The lights had gone up in the cinema and everyone was unfurling in their seats and stretching like they were all waking up from a collective dream. Stephen was already on his feet, hands stuffed deep into his cargo pants, permanent scowl directed at an innocent wall in front of him. Despite the antisocial stance, however, he didn't seem particularly impatient. He was just waiting, aggressively waiting, but waiting nonetheless. For Austen.
Austen burst into hysterical giggles again.
Stephen glared, swapping the innocent wall for a spot right between Austen's eyebrows. "If you think we're going to sit through the credits of this awful movie you have another fucking think coming."
"What if there is a cut scene in the end?"
"So, it might be a special horse-breathing cut scene!"
Stephen rolled his eyes and turned to walk down the aisle.
Austen skipped after him, trilling cheerfully. "And maybe this time he's kissing an actual horse!"
"Fucking twisted ass mofo…"
It was cold outside, much colder than it had been when they'd walked into the theater a couple of hours earlier. Stephen suffered in the wildly inappropriate t-shirt he wore. It clung uselessly to his body inviting the elements to torment his wreck-white knuckles, and his dangly, bare arms, and the sliver of skin that winked above the line of his boxers because he was sort of hunched and the shirt wasn't long enough. His body vibrated in the black air and the ghost of his warmth haunted his parted lips. He gasped onto his hands, rubbing them vigorously. It didn't help. They wilted like wet firewood in dread monsoon.
Austen insides twisted unhappily. It was his fault Stephen was out here in the first place and yet, if he tried to do anything about it Stephen would dismember him as a last act before he died of frost bite. He hadn't known Stephen very long, but he knew, as certain as his father's devotion to his money, that Stephen would never accept charity that he saw coming. Since Stephen pretty much saw everything coming that meant he just would never accept charity. Even if it ended up killing him.
So Austen's insides twisted. And his Northface endowed arms ached where they wrapped tightly about his person. Stephen had done so much for Austen already. He just couldn't just stand there and watch. At the very least he could suggest they wait inside the theater.
"Do you maybe want to go somewhere to eat while we're waiting for Charles?"
Okay, perhaps not the theater then.
Stephen side-eyed Austen and the metallic piercing in his eyebrow glinted in the headlights of an oncoming car. Green eyes pierced Austen's request, prying apart the meaning in the lines across his face. The cold may have robbed Stephen's person of his usual aura of homicidal calm, but it did not touch his eyes. They bored into Austen's heart, suspicion peeling away at his innocent request for the intention, the very dangerous intention buried underneath. He would have gotten to it, too, had a suitably robust gale not chosen that moment to wreck through his bones.
Stephen gasped and shut his eyes tight, cursing under his breath. He pulled his hands up to his face so he could blow on them harder.
Eventually, he managed words. "You paying?"
"You coming?" Austen countered.
"Don't have a choice, do I?"
Austen ignored that. "There's a nice fish and chips place down the road if you want."
Stephen shook his head. "Prancy restaurant."
"Pub. Drinks. Normal blokes. Footy on the telly."
Austen squirmed. "But, don't you think the twins might be in a place like a pub?"
"So I'd rather not get my face bashed in."
Stephen was starting to look blurry, he was shaking so hard. He sucked in a breath, bounced from one foot to another. "Fuck the twins. I'll protect you."
"You'll be drunk in a pub. How exactly are you going to fight?"
Another car passed, Stephen's face lit up. He looked for a brief moment exactly like what he was - a roughish lad who occasionally got into trouble. Not a prince of thugs who regularly painted in blood to keep people off his back.
He managed a feral grin. "I fight better when I'm drunk."
They ended up at the first pub they came to. Mostly because by then Stephen was starting to turn blue and Austen was finding it hard not to do things he'd been banned from doing (read: kissing and touching and standing too close) just to transfer heat. Warmth hit them the second they shoved through the wooden door melting their skin and their fat into one soft anatomical snug.
The bar was old in that way things that were at least fifty years old could be. Parchment paper colored light emanated from lamps that looked like lanterns set up against the dark wood walls. The scent of stale ale and cheap beer seeped up from the foundation, mingled with a hint of cedar and a pound of human. No matter how many times this floor was washed, it would always smell like this. All the chairs and tables were chipped and so were the patrons. Austen couldn't say that they all looked exactly the same, because they did not, but they all leaked a similar aura; they had seen things, they had done things, and they were here to forget.
They sort of reminded him of Stephen in a way.
"Fuck's sake, Austen, what do you want to drink?"
Austen startled and blinked into a very annoyed Stephen-face. They were up at the bar. He didn't remember walking there at all - his body had gotten so used to keeping Stephen near by it now did it on auto-pilot.
"You know my sister had a boy like that. Turned out kid was having seizures. You should get him tested." Mac the bartender said, making his presence known at the very edge of Austen's periphery vision. Mac was a giant of a man, with muscles in all the places body builders wanted them and not a lick of hair on any part of his body. He looked like he'd taken a bath in Nair or something - shiny bald head, no eyebrows, clean shaven but without the look of someone who had ever shaved, baby smooth arms sprouting from a tank top. He didn't even have arm pit hair. And really, Austen wandered, what sort of a bloke didn't even have armpit hair?
"Yup, he'd stare just like that," Mac was saying. Austen startled back to himself.
"I'm not having seizures," he said in a small voice.
"It speaks. Fantastic. What do you want to drink?" Stephen snapped.
"Beer," Austen guessed. He'd not been to a bar. Not properly. He didn't know what to order so he wouldn't look like the kind of person who ate at prancy restaurants. Not that people who ate at bars couldn't eat at prancy restaurants. He gulped. Stephen was still looking at him expectantly.
"And what kind of beer?"
Austen made a little 'oh' with his mouth. This was much harder than he thought. "Sweet beer."
"There's no such thing."
Stephen sighed. "You've never had beer before have you?"
"I have!" Austen said indignantly. He didn't add that that one time had been with Ripper and really, the beer had not been what he was thinking about at that time.
"Mac, just get him what I got. If we wait for him to come up with something, we're going to be here all night."
Mac walked off. Austen cleared his throat. This was the bit when he made interesting conversation so that Stephen didn't regret this entire enterprise. Stephen had had a great time at the movie and Austen was feeling greedy. He wanted Stephen to have fun at the bar, too.
"Do you like football?"
"What sort of stupid question is that? I'm British aren't I?" Stephen rolled his shoulders, bent his arms down on the bar so they rested at opposing angles.
"There's British people who don't like football," Austen felt he had to point out.
"You'd better not be one of them."
Mac interrupted, appearing in a cloud of ale, wielding their pints in one hand. He set them down with a bang, spilling some onto the table, before moving on to help someone else. Foam bobbed off the lip of the pints, like whipped cream but somehow edgier and older. Perhaps, though, that was only because everyone knew beer was a grown-up juice. Maybe if that foam had been hanging off the kind of cups hot chocolate came in, it wouldn't have looked different. Perspective and all that. Maybe if Austen wore more intimidating clothes he wouldn't be so beat-up-able. Maybe if Stephen wore sweater vests and slacks he would—
Austen snuck a peak at Stephen who was gruffly reaching out for his pint. His grazed knuckles looked rawer in the light.
—Nope. Stephen would be just as horrifying not matter what he wore. He'd probably make sweater vests and slacks look like bullet proof armor..
Stephen, unaware he was being observed, drained his pint in a single breath, punctuated by multiple gulps that made his Adam's apple race up and down the track from his jaw to his neck. Austen, catching himself staring again because his Adam's apple was frankly not even close to that athletic, grabbed his pint in his two hands too and moved in to take a sip. Instantly, he discovered two things. 1) Beer foam was not as fun as whipped cream. 2) He did not like the taste of beer.
He set the pint down only to discover Stephen was staring at him for a change.
"So, that's beer. It's, uh, it's great."
Stephen horse-blew out his mouth and his nostrils flared. "Not that. Are you one of those un-patriotic snivelers what doesn't like football?"
"You do know the British didn't invent football right? There's records tracing it back 2000 years to ancient china, greece—"
"Yeah, yeah and parts of Central America had it, too, but we British gave it rules, and uniforms, and made up the World Cup. Also stop trying to smart-arse your way out of this. Answer the question."
Austen caught his lips twitching into a smile. "What question is that?"
Stephen leaned in, his pointer finger stabbing the bar for emphasis. "Are you or are you not a wanker?"
It was just like at the movies, but better. Stephen was talking to him, and not just about their deal and how Austen had to stand five feet away at all times. He was talking about things he liked and things he cared about. He was inviting Austen into his world, even if it was just to make sure he was not a "wanker".
"Of course, I'm not," Austen finally said. "Manchester United is my favorite team."
Stephen's face percolated disgust. "Manchester United? Are you mental?"
"Well yeah. They'd had all the greats on there. Beckham, Van Nistleroy…"
"Pretty boys with literally no skill at all. Literally Beckham's only talent is kicking thing's very far with his ridiculous long legs."
"Yes, but he kicks those things accurately, which makes him the best."
"So can a well-trained horse. Let him go be leader of the free horses."
"If you want good players, you need Drogba and Ballack. Fucking legends right there"
Austen's face twisted. "Oh no, don't tell me you're a Chelsea fan!"
Stephen snapped his fingers. "Mac. I'm going to need another beer!"
The bar was a perfect macrocosm of equilibrium; the total number of people didn't change, but the actual people did. For every patron who called it a night, another would wander in to start his. Even Mac had been replaced by another guy on shift, a Bolton. He looked just like Mac, except he was black and he had eyebrows. Stephen and Austen were the only constant. Seven more pints surrounded them than when they'd started: half were beer, half were lemonade. All were drained because the orderer had not wanted to interrupt speaking time with drinking, but kept ordering because all the talking made them thirsty.
Austen mouth split from ear to ear. A part of his heart was unfurling in his chest in ways it wasn't meant to. His eyes were a little too bright and his cheeks were flushed, literally inhaling second hand alcohol from Stephen's blood, as he yelled from his toes to his head about how Chelsea only wore blue because they weren't good enough to wear the color of war, which was Manchester Red. Stephen for his part was actually drunk and his arguments had degraded just saying the names of Manchester player with the words fuck and balls inserted in uncomfortable places. Every once in a while Austen would see the hint of a laugh in his smoldering eyes, but it didn't last long enough to reach his mouth.
"They actually made a movie about Beckham. Bend it like Beckham!"
"It should have been Suck like Beckham!"
"That doesn't even make any sense. You don't make any sense."
"No, you don't make any sense. And your team is bollocks. And Van Nistelroy is a fuck suck." Stephen punctuated this point by slamming his latest pint on to the table. It was empty. It'd been empty for a while. He got up abruptly. "Stay here," he instructed.
"Where are you going?" Austen asked.
"Ill come with you."
"No you will not, you weirdo."
The malevolent boy shuffled off towards the back of the pub, somehow managing not to touch anyone even though the place was packed. Austen felt suddenly cold, like he'd been sitting in a heat bubble and it had popped. He was suddenly aware of how much he stood out in the pub, and how he didn't really know anyone who was there. Inexplicably, he felt overwhelming loneliness made only worse by the fact that moments ago he'd belonged, even if just superficially.
He crouched his feet under the stool and hugged his empty pint to himself. Five minutes passed. He swung his legs. Ten minutes passed. He checked his phone, no messages. Checked it again, still no messages. Twenty minutes…
"He ain't coming back."
Bolton was standing there drying a pint in his hands. He threw the towel over his shoulder. Sympathy softened his face.
"What do you mean?" Austen asked, his voice a little shaky.
"I mean, there are no bathrooms in the pub and that back there," Bolton tilted his head and raised a bushy, black eye brow, "is an exit. He's taken off."
"Just thought I'd let you know so you wouldn't be waiting all night."
If he'd been cold before, now Austen was freezing. Also he was suffocating. He tried to catch the air back, but whoever had poked his bubble hand hit his lungs too. Too late, he realized, the sensation was only a referred feeling. The actual feeling was trying to leak out of his eyes. He wiped a hand furiously over his face and refused to let it pass.
"Thanks," he muttered, barely making a sound. He placed a wad of bills on the bar top, slid off the stool, and wandered out of the pub. The cold hit him, but he didn't notice it. Blindly, he dragged his cell phone from his pocket rehearsing the lie that he was going to tell Charles when he arrived. There was no way he was going to give Charles the satisfaction of knowing Stephen had absconded. Austen would never hear the end of it.
His eyes were set to his feet so he didn't notice the approaching figure until he had crashed right into it. His gaze flew up, and up, and up. His soul stopped self-mutilating.
"I thought I told you to wait inside," Stephen growled. "What would you have done if the twins had gotten to you before I got to them?"
"Saw them sniffing around a bit ago. Came out to scare them off a bit." He showed his right hand and lit a grin "Even stole a smoke off the fat one. Don't feel so fucking cold anymore."
"I thought you left!" Austen gushed, not even the least bit hiding how sincerely relieved he was. He couldn't help it. He'd spent everything he had trying not to cry. He didn't have anything left to stop him from being so unabashedly grateful.
Stephen crouched down on the sidewalk, inhaling prettily wrapped carcinogens. "Why would I risk that? Don't want a Ba+ on my paper."
And now he really was crying. He wiped at his face, furiously, unconsciously. "Can I sit next to you?"
Stephen gave him a look. "Not if you're going to be crying like a baby just because I beat you at an argument."
That surprised a laugh out of Austen. He sun-showered. "You didn't win."
"That's what you think. Call your driver before I kick your ass again."
Austen plopped down on the street next to Stephen and whipped out his phone, happier than he'd ever been.
a/n: I want to thank you all, but I have no time :/ please accept this chapter as a humble peace offering.