"Last time I was here, I bumped the lock. What do you say?" James asked. He and Viking were standing outside the door to Marcel's student room. "Want to surprise the boy?"
Viking smiled at him. "Let's play nice. And what if we surprise him with his favourite pink lover? I'd be traumatised."
"Is that right?"
"Yeah, probably. Let's give him fair warning."
James knocked on the door, hoping Marcel was actually there to open it. They waited a full minute, then James knocked again, a little more aggressively this time.
"Alright, hang on!" Marcel shouted from the other side.
It was another full minute before Marcel opened, wearing a stripy terrycloth robe with an elaborate 'M' stitched to the breast pocket. James couldn't stop himself from rolling his eyes.
Woken up at the arse-crack of dawn, Marcel looked every second of his twenty-one years. His hair was on end, his eyes puffy, sleepy, and half-open, the shadow of a beard, and the impression of a creased pillow-case like a scar across his cheekbone.
"Oh God," Marcel sighed when it registered with him who had come calling. "Is this going to become a regular thing, these inopportune appearances in my room? Should I be expecting you every quarter?"
"Listen, eh," Viking said, pushing past Marcel to get into the room. "He's already talking like an accountant." He did his Marcel-voice. "'I'll be expecting a visit from you two gentlemen on the first Monday of every quarter'."
"Yeah, I absolutely didn't call you gentlemen," Marcel said, stepping aside so James could enter the room as well.
James stepped inside and closed the door behind him. That closed-in smell of night and sleep was much stronger now than the last time he'd been here. There was also the smell of something faintly medical, like medical lotion or something. Viking was standing by Marcel's desk. He had picked up a stapler from Marcel's desk and was turning it over in his hands.
"Aw, did you hear that, James? Our baby boy is growing up." Viking pinched Marcel's cheek.
"So it would seem," James answered and sat down in Marcel's only chair in an odd echo of his first visit.
"Yeah. It's actually half three in the morning. What do you want? I'd quite like to get back to sleep," Marcel said.
"We have a proposition," Viking said. "Do you have breakfast?"
Marcel looked at James, who shrugged, then back at Viking.
"I mean, I can make you a cup of tea if you really want one," Marcel said. Even his voice sounded deeper and rougher when he wasn't his usual bubbly self. He sounded a bit like he'd smoked a packet of unfiltered fags while downing a pint of whiskey.
"Fuck the tea," James said. "Can you both just sit the hell down so we can talk?"
Marcel grabbed a bottle of water from his desk, shed his silly robe to reveal a pair of actual honest-to-God pyjamas, and returned back to his bed, pulling the duvet up to his waist. Viking put the stapler back on the desk and looked like he was about to sit down on the desk when he suddenly froze.
"What's up?" James asked him at the same time as Marcel made a little strangled noise.
"Oh my fucking God," Viking said, sounding a lot like he had that time in the back room when he had discovered James was hard. Like a delighted devil. "Oh my fucking God," he said again. "James, come take a look."
"Really. Please don't," Marcel said from the bed. "I'm sorry. It's just a… A joke, I suppose. Please don't take offense."
Unnerved by Viking's delight and Marcel's discomfort, James got up and joined Viking by the desk.
"Did you make these?"
"Yeah," Marcel croaked.
"If accountancy doesn't work out for you, I'm sure you could make a living drawing, you talented little perv," Viking said. He turned to James. "Look at this, mate." Viking gestured at the notice board above Marcel's desk.
The last time James had been here, there had been drawings of Captain America and Iron Man snogging; they were now gone in favour of pictures of James and Viking, drawn by the same sure hand in the same almost photo-realist style.
"Fucking hell," James said, taking in the pictures. Three of them in total. One of James holding Viking against a wall, a hand around his throat as they kissed. One of James fucking Viking from behind, an arm around Viking's chest, the other pulling his head back by his hair. Cartoon Viking's eyes were closed and he was smiling. He was beautiful. The last one was of Viking straddling James' lap on a sofa, his back to James' chest, both of them naked.
"These are brilliant. I'm going to take a photo," Viking said, pulling his phone from his pocket and snapping away at the pictures. "I mean, both James and I have way more tattoos than that, but everything else is pretty good. Well. Not sure I'm quite that hung to be honest, but cheers, kid."
"You're not pissed off?" Marcel said from his corner in the bed. He had pulled the duvet up as if he thought he could hide behind it.
"Not at all. I love them," Viking said. James just shook his head and went to sit down in the chair again. "For future reference, James is a total bottom, but apart from that they're brilliant."
"Can you just shut the fuck up and sit down so we can say what we came to say?" James snapped at Viking. This hiding out in the open bullshit was getting on his nerves. Viking winked at him, but turned away from the notice board and sat down on the desk, putting his feet up on Marcel's desk chair.
"You graduate in June?" James asked Marcel.
"Do you want a job?"
"What? I have an internship lined up with—"
"Yeah, an internship isn't a job, mate," Viking said. "We're offering you a proper full-time gig."
Marcel unscrewed the cap on the water bottle and took a few deep gulps.
"How legal is it?" Marcel asked, re-capping the bottle and putting it on his bedside table. "I don't want any sort of job where I'm going to have the police on my heels or risk getting shot at."
"It's perfectly legal. We'd like to give you a gentleman's club. The Frye, to be specific."
"What?" Marcel looked between Viking and James, like a confused chicken. "I mean, what?"
"As of earlier today, well, I suppose that's yesterday now, so… As of yesterday, The Frye belongs to me. I don't want it, and I don't want the heat that comes with being a business owner with a criminal record. So I'd like to give it to you. Plus, you're an accountant, so you could do the books as well. Hire a floor manager if you want to stick with just the numbers, but the place is yours if you want it."
"Do I get any real control there or would I just be your puppet?"
The fact that he asked that made James think that this hadn't been a stupid proposal on Viking's and his part.
"You're in full control, baby," Viking said. "James and I will be around, but we can work on the details of that once you take over."
"So if I wanted to employ some dancing boys to complement the girls, I could?"
James groaned. "Look, you're not an idiot. You know that The Frye has its circle of loyal costumers who are there for the girls and who wouldn't turn up if there was any risk that some gym-toned 20-year-old was going to swing his tackle in their faces. If you want to re-brand the place as a gay club, do that, but I'm not giving you a business so that you can treat it as your own personal playground. This is a serious proposal."
"But if I wanted to, you'd let me?"
James presumed Marcel was only testing the boundaries. And maybe a gay club would be more lucrative than a gentleman's club anyway. When Giles was running the place, it had always seemed like a relic from a gone era.
"I wouldn't be able to stop you. Legally. But if you start fucking things up, I might put in an anonymous call to the police asking them to search your dad's grounds for the burnt-up remains of an old Ford, if you catch my drift."
"So I do as you want or you'll report me to the police? Blackmailing much?"
"You do as you want, but if you run the place to the ground out of spite, you'll find out I can be quite spiteful myself." James sighed and leaned forward, elbows on knees, and looked at Marcel. "This is a joint project, okay, mate? You, me, Viking. Once we figure out the details, we can set up a legit contract if that makes you happier. As to the running of the place, we'll leave that to you. We'll help you when you need it, but otherwise, it's yours."
"I'm the front."
No point beating about the bush about this. "You're the front," James confirmed. "But we will never do anything to incriminate you personally. Or to put The Frye at risk."
"Let me think about it."
"A week enough?" Viking asked.
"Yeah. Should I phone you in a week or will you come barging in here in the early dawn again?"
"A telephone call will do, mate." James stood. "Okay, I think we're done here. Let us know, alright?"
Viking stood as well.
"Yeah, will do."
With a final glance at those drawings, James left, Viking on his heels.
They picked up breakfast on their way from Marcel's prison-like student room, and reached The Frye just as the city was waking up all around them. There was something a little sad about that place in the mornings, James thought. Like it was stripped of its magic. Its fuel – the flirty girls, the horny guys, the alcohol, the hormones, the pheromones, the good times out – was missing. It was running on fumes. An empty tank. It was nothing now but a soiled floor and dented furniture.
"Where do you want to eat?" Viking asked, stopping for a moment and looking around.
"Giles' old office?"
They headed up to the top floor and set up their breakfast on Giles' desk. The bullet hole was a weird reminder of what had happened when they were there last. It felt like a lifetime ago. James sat down behind the desk, the creaking of the chair a familiar sound in an unfamiliar world. Viking sat down in the visitors' chair in front of the desk. When they'd opened the door, there had been a faint smell of Giles' aftershave, but now there was only the smell of coffee and freshly baked bread.
"I'm fucking ravenous," James said, tucking into his sandwich.
"Yeah, me too." Viking took a huge bite, smiling at James with lips only just closing over sourdough bread, cheese and veggies. "He'll come around though. Marcel. He's practically panting for it. He's just playing it cool."
"Yeah, I got that feeling too."
James pulled the lid off his coffee and breathed in the smell before drinking. He wasn't sure breakfast had ever tasted that good. Probably because it had been so long since he last ate, but not only that. There was something in the air.
"We'll spend a lot of time with him if he accepts," James said. "You think we should tell him that we're fucking?" He wasn't serious, not at all, he just wanted to gauge Viking's reaction.
Viking groaned. "Fuck no. With that weird fanboy thing he's got going on, he'd probably die of combustion. Or worse, he might angle for a threesome."
James shuddered. Viking laughed.
They ate in companionable silence for a while.
"So are we going straight?" James asked after a while, picking crumbs from his jeans.
Viking arched an eyebrow at him over the rim of his paper coffee mug.
"You know what I mean," James said, only just avoiding rolling his eyes.
"I do know what you mean, darling," Viking said, looking at James like he was daring James to object to the endearment. "Probably best. If Kailey manages to pull that thing off so we can get immunity if we testify, we should probably lie low for a while. I reckon we'll catch a lot of heat for that." Viking leaned back in the chair, stretching out his long legs and patting his stomach. "If there's enough coming in from this place that we can survive on it, it's probably a good idea to stick with this for a bit. I'll talk to Christian, see how long he's willing to hold on to the stuff, but if he's in a hurry, I'm willing to let it go."
"Yeah, me too."
James tossed his empty coffee mug in the rubbish bin, ran his finger absently around the bullet hole in the desktop and looked around the shoddy old office. There was a fluttering in his stomach when he thought of what this place could be. What he could be. With Viking, maybe, if that worked out. Right then, as Viking reached out and took James' hand in his, it seemed it would. They could make something good out of this mess, Viking and James.
Their own sandcastle.
A/N: Aaaaand it's a wrap. Thank you to everyone who has read and reviewed. I appreciate it. :)