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21 December 2009 @ 06:18 pm
Original fic: She Wanted Storms (Part III)  

Part II

Mr Hedges - or Head - was actually extremely good at playing the guitar. He wasn't a half-bad singer either, though he mainly performed growly back up to Polo Byrne's sob-torn lyrics. If it weren't for the sensible lace-up brogues Nick mightn't have even been sure that it was his dad, but Mr Hedges was the only man in the world fashion-blind enough to buy shoes that ugly. Or so Nick had thought; the grungy t-shirt and distressed jeans Mr Hedges was currently wearing wouldn't have looked out of place on anyone in Nick's class, or even Nick himself.

A million thoughts crowded Nick's head, but all he could concentrate on was the fact that Mr Hedges must have gone clothes-shopping - Mr Hedges, who had his suits ordered bespoke and bought slippers online because he hated high street shops.

Nick had been aware for some time that part of growing up meant relinquishing the idea that parents were all knowing, all powerful gods. For example, when his mother snapped at him, it might only mean that she'd had a long day dealing with buyers at the gallery, and not that Nick was a demon child lost to all hope of discipline and respect, as her attitude suggested. It had only dawned on him recently that the reason his father was so boring and spent so long in the office might be an unhappy marriage. This, though - that his father was a performer, a man who sang lyrics that Robbie and a hundred others mouthed along to; that he played music Nick found faintly familiar, from a Jungian consciousness of eighties hits - was entirely out of the ballpark. Nick couldn't process the information correctly. All he could do was gape at his father and wonder how he could stretch his fingers so far over the frets.

When at last his father finished the set, he and Polo Byrne left the stage to a cacophony of cheers. It soon became evident that, despite the fervent admonitions of the crowd, they had no intention of returning for an encore. The emcee took to the stage to warm them up for Fred. Nick groped under the bar and found Robbie's fingers. At his squeeze, Robbie turned from where he'd been excitedly discussing the set with a man three times his age.

"I have to - outside," said Nick. He must have looked pretty awful, for Robbie's face tightened and he guided Nick to the door. Nick hadn't wanted Robbie to come, to ruin his night too, but he was selfishly glad he did.

As soon as they were clear of the press of people, Nick found a wall to lean against and pressed his icy hands over his eyes. Robbie said his name in a high C.

"I'm fine, I'm fine, it's just -" Nick took away his palms to breathe and spotted Polo Byrne leaving through a back door, guitar case in hand. He was laughing over his shoulder at someone. At Nick's dad.

"Oh my god," breathed Robbie, "there he is! One of the most powerful people in the music business, and he's right here -"

"With my dad," said Nick flatly.

"With your - what?" Robbie peered around the otherwise deserted lane, evidently expecting a civil servant to materialise out of thin air.

Nick ran out of words. He pointed, as Mr Hedges emerged from the same door, wearing a huge smile that was even more unlikely than his clothes.

"No, Nick," laughed Robbie, "that's Danny Head, not ..." his voice trailed off as he looked from Nick to Mr Hedges, evidently tracing the common ancestry in their large mouths and ashy blonde hair. "Oh my god. You mean - you didn't know?"

Nick shook his head. He stared fixedly at his father. Some sixth sense alerted him to it, because he looked up. His face, when he spotted his son, must have borne a comic resemblance to Nick's own; Robbie took one look and swallowed down giggles.

"Nicholas Hedges!" His father's voice scraped - probably because he'd been singing it raw, Nick thought unsympathetically. "What are you doing here?"

"I could ask you the same thing - Danny Head," said Nick.

His father was shaken by the sally, but not beaten. "It's after twelve on a school night," he said. "I don't remember you asking permission to come out, and I certainly don't remember me granting it."

"Dad," said Nick. Polo Byrne padded up behind Mr Hedges and put a hand on his shoulder. Mr Hedges glanced sideways for a moment before returning his attention, in all its severe glory, to Nick - but that moment was enough. Nick felt sick. He wished he'd shut the door on Polo that first day and pretended that there was no such person as Mr Hedges.

"Go home, Nick," sighed his father. All the fight was gone from him, as if Polo had sapped it away with a touch. "I'll deal with you tomorrow." Without even waiting to hear Nick's reply, he walked off with Polo into the night.

"Nick?" Robbie's thumb brushed a line down the side of his hand. "C'mon, I'll take you home."

+++

Nick climbed into bed fully clothed and woke up there twelve hours later, having forgotten to turn on his phone and hence silencing the alarm clock. It wasn't hard to convince Marita that he was extremely unwell.

After tucking him up with Knorr Cup-A-Soup and soda bread, Marita instantly forgot about him in favour of hoovering and Home and Away. Nick poured the soup down the sink, broke out his stash of Fruit and Nut, and munched away moodily while curled up in the window seat. His phone buzzed several times. There were six messages from Laura, some from the night before wondering where he was, some from today wondering where he was. Jack texted about a homework assignment, probably without having noticed Nick was missing. Padraig just sent a grammatically criminal 'were u :('. From Robbie, there was nothing at all.

By four o'clock Nick was well and truly bored. Too restless for video games or TV, not hungry enough to eat, Nick threw on a jumper the washing machine had stretched to Dr Gadget proportions over the pyjamas Marita had forced him into and crept outside. The wind frazzled the grease in his hair, shot in through the huge loopy holes in his jumper and flayed the thin material of his pants, but he marched on regardless. He wasn't even sure where he was going until he washed up on Robbie's doorstep.

Frances opened the door with a beaming smile. "You've beat him here," she said. "He's not home yet. But come and have some scones with us in the front room."

Even in his normal state of mind, Nick was too polite to refuse this velvet-coated command. Muffled as his thoughts were now, he just gave her a vacant smile and followed, the untied laces on his Timberlands flapping.

The scones were nice, dripping with butter, jam and artery-cloggers. The mysterious gym was shut off, reminding Nick that he still couldn't figure out what the supersized treadmill was for. Instead he was treated to an array of all things floral. 'Matching' and 'harmony' were two words that didn't feature in Frances's interior design category; Nick felt quite cowed by the excess of carnations.

Robbie's father, a bald and white-bearded gentleman who bore a passing resemblance to Mahatma Gandhi, seated himself opposite Nick and treated him to a long and serious monologue on the benefits of acupuncture. Mr Kincaid was a lawyer, but had hurt his back playing golf. Modern medicine - a term that Mr Kincaid puffed out as one would a ball of noxious gas - had nothing to offer him and, in addition, had the temerity to suggest that there was nothing at all the matter with him. So he'd turned to the East, acupuncture to be precise, and undergone a cure that was nothing less than miraculous. Mr Kincaid was taking a night-time course in acupuncture with a view to becoming a certified practitioner. In a zombie-doze, Nick found himself agreeing to be needled so that Mr Kincaid could practice.

"No time like the present!" said Mr Kincaid. He produced a pack of needles from a pocket that surely could not have held them and encouraged Nick to take off his jumper. All he was wearing beneath it was a vest that had gone through several life cycles, from purest white to its current state of mealy grey. Feeling embarrassed was the last thing on Nick's mind; he just leaned forward so Mr Kincaid could take great handfuls of his trapezius muscles and skewer them. Nick bit back a string of hisses and hoped Mr Kincaid was only beginning his training, otherwise acupuncture was nothing more than dressed-up torture.

The front door banging alerted Nick to Robbie's arrival. He looked up, hoping to spot him in the hallway, but Mr Kincaid said sharply, "Keep your head down, sir, if you please." By the time Nick found the right words to say, Robbie had already flown past the front room door and up the stairs. It was another quarter of an hour before he came back down. Voices rose in the kitchen and a minute later, Robbie stormed into the front room.

"Dad!" he yelled. "What have I told you about doing that mumbo-jumbo bullshit on people!"

"Robert, language, please," said Mr Kincaid. He plucked the last needle from Nick's juddering muscles. "I was just finished."

Robbie rolled his eyes and made an incoherent noise. He grabbed Nick's upper arm, all uncaring that it had just recently been used as a pincushion, and pulled him to safety. Frances hovered in the kitchen doorway. Robbie made a face at her, grabbed the plate of brownies she proffered, and beckoned Nick upstairs.

"Jesus christ," he muttered, pulling his bedcover straight and pushing Nick down on it. "He's fucking - ever since - I don't believe a word of it, do you?"

Nick stopped examining his shoulders for bleeding. "Well, what he was saying about his back -"

"His back, his back," said Robbie bitterly. "As if that's the only injury to ever happen to anyone ever. As if acupuncture could cure anything real!"

Nick looked up into Robbie's flushed, heated face, the glint of metal in his lip. Had he worn that to school, even with the threat of Mrs DuPolo Byrne before his eyes? Nick remembered spreading his fingertips over Robbie's lips so he could close the clasp. Robbie paced, his perambulations knocking him against Nick's feet. Nick reached out to still him, two fingers on his jumping pulse.

"I think I'm breaking up with Laura," he said.

That had the effect of both shutting up and stopping Robbie. He halted right over Nick, big eyes boring into Nick's.

"What's that about, then?" he asked quietly. Nick shrugged.

"I just - I want." Nick swallowed painfully. "My dad, you know, he told me things and I thought he meant them, but now he's got this life that I never even knew about. So I don't know what anything means anymore, only that I - I keep wanting to - touch you."

"Shut up," said Robbie. "Don't -" He tried to pull his hand out of Nick's grasp, but Nick held on.

"I keep thinking you want to, too - I don't know if it even matters -"

"I should think it does," said Robbie hotly.

"I mean to me," said Nick, "to what we – I – I feel." He released Robbie's hand with a sigh and dropped his head to his knees.

For a few seconds all he could hear was his own breathing, amplified sea-shell-like by his posture. Then he felt a light pressure as Robbie ran his fingers through Nick's hair.

"I wouldn't do that," mumbled Nick. "'s all greasy."

"Yes." Robbie gave it a tug. "That it is." A harder tug, and Nick raised his head with an injured wince.

"You didn't have to -" he began. Robbie pretty effectively cancelled his protests by planting his mouth over Nick's. His hand was still fisted too tight in Nick's hair, Nick's head bent back at an awkward angle, and there was nothing gentle or affectionate in Robbie's mouth - just hard pressure and not a little anger. Nick opened his knees so Robbie could push between them and tilted his neck even more. Robbie's lips slanted across his upper lip, overshooting slightly. Nick could feel his wet breath under his nose before Robbie closed both his lips around Nick's upper one and tipped him back on the bed.

"You want to touch?" breathed Robbie. "You really want to touch?" He slid his hand around the inside of Nick's thigh and roughly shoved it out. His body settled heavily over Nick's, which felt burning hot under his thin layer of clothes. Nick's only answer was to groan, and to reach up to pull Robbie's mouth on to his again.

Robbie rolled forward on to his elbows and rocked his whole body down against Nick. Nick's hips jerked up in response. Robbie caught his moan before it left his mouth, kissing him wetly and open-mouthed until Nick got impatient and slipped him the tongue. Robbie's response was to savagely bunch up Nick's shirt and kiss a line from his collarbone to his nipple. Once there he sucked on it lightly. Nick's hips twitched up restlessly. Robbie's breathing grew louder as he impatiently tugged at Nick's shirt.

"Off, off," he panted. "Dear god, what are you wearing?"

Nick kicked off his loose Timberlands. "Not much?" he suggested. Robbie's smile grew wicked.

He smoothed his hand up Nick's side and returned to torturing his nipple, lapping at it until it grew tight and peaked. Nick groaned and scratched his fingers down Robbie's spine, eliciting another undulating roll that brought their hips flush together. Nick could feel everything through the thin material of his pyjama pants, down to the rasp of the weave of Robbie's jeans, and it felt insanely, heart-sickeningly good.

"How're you doing down there?" asked Robbie, flexing his hips again. Nick arched - everywhere, baring his throat, curving his chest, winding his legs around Robbie's. He'd never felt so abandoned, so lost in sensation. His cock throbbed, reminding him that Robbie should either be kissing him or feeling him up or preferably both.

"God, Robbie -" he choked out.

"Robbie?" said another voice, one that was distinctly less welcome. Nick froze, but Frances was calling from downstairs and not, as he feared, from outside the door.

"What?" replied Robbie grouchily. He squeezed the flesh under Nick's ribs as if to convey his irritation, but Nick’s every nerve just tightened with pleasure at the touch.

"Your friend's mother is on the phone," said Frances. "He needs to go home right away."

+++

Marita's balm in times of stress was tea. In response to the seriousness of the situation, there were no less than fifteen cups sitting on the kitchen table when Nick arrived, some half-drunk, most not even touched. Marita sat sobbing over a sixteenth cup, the tea reposing in a cheerful field of kittens. At the other end of the table, his mother traced patterns in spilt crumbs of sugar. Neither of them looked up when the door banged shut.

"What happened?" he asked.

Marita's only response was to sob even louder. Nick's mother looked up. Her face was bare of makeup, virtually unrecognisable. Nate wondered uncomfortably if she'd always had those pouches under her eyes, if the skin of her neck had always been that loose. Although her eyes were pink-edged, she wasn't crying. Indeed, when she spoke, her voice was calm, almost bored, the tone she used on telemarketers and distant friends.

"He's left me," she said, and returned to drawing abstract swirls on the table.

"Who?" Nick had an inkling, but he wanted it confirmed. His mother's finger moved faster, but she didn't reply. Instead, Marita got up and, still snorting out tears, fetched an envelope sitting on the counter. It was addressed to Sylvia and the flap hadn't been gummed down.

His inkling rapidly sprouting into a fully-grown dread, Nick pulled out the folded over sheet of notepaper tucked into the envelope. His father hadn't even bothered to neaten the serrated edges. His writing wandered sideways across the lined page, as if he'd been scribbling with more haste than care.

Dear S,

You know things haven't been right for a long time - maybe ever. I'm sure you regret the decision we made all those years ago as much as I do. But Nick's old enough now to stop the charade. B's made me an offer I can't refuse - I'd be mad to refuse it - all I can hope is that you'll forgive me and we can be friends again one day. I'll forward on contact details etc once I know what they are. Don't worry about money.

Regards,
D


It was the 'regards' that really got to Nick. In every respect bar content, his father had written the letter as if it was business correspondence: precise and totally impersonal. Nick didn't understand the particulars of what he'd said, but the gist of it was clear. His father was abandoning them.

A thought struck him. "Did he leave a letter for me?" he asked. Marita was too convulsed with emotion to answer him. Eventually, his mother met his eyes. In the last five minutes, she seemed to have turned into an old woman. She gave a gusty sigh.

"I’m sorry," she said heavily.

Nick dropped the letter, accidentally-on-purpose grinding it under his foot as he left the kitchen. He pulled his duvet over to the window seat and mummified himself in it. His eyes were clear, but there was a burning behind them that suggested tears might be imminent. To stave them off, Nick got his phone from his pocket and frenetically rubbed his thumb over the keypad.

Who to call? Padraig and Jack would be worse than useless in such a situation. There was Robbie, of course ... but Nick felt strangely reluctant to tell him all of this. Maybe he didn't want to mar the shining memory of what had just happened between them with the mud of his father's cowardly actions. Or maybe he just didn't feel comfortable telling Robbie something like this.

All at once, he realised the person he really wanted to talk to was Laura. He'd pressed down on the speed-dial before he quite knew what he was doing.

"Hey, Laura," he said, in a subdued tone. "No, not really. Something bad's happened. Listen - do you think you could come over?" As soon as she said yes, he felt like the world's biggest jerk.

+++

Laura arrived by the front door, as per Nick's instructions. He guided her quickly upstairs. Usually Laura was happy to spend a few minutes in conversation with whichever adult happened to be in the house, whether it was one of his parents or Marita. However, Nick seriously doubted there were in fact any adults in his house at the moment. Besides, he didn't want Laura finding out the news in the same way he had.

Laura was dressed sensibly in Ugg boots, a puffy jacket and a pink scarf and hat. It reminded Nick of how he'd rushed out into the cold in his pyjamas to get to Robbie's house. There was something about the difference, and the way Laura chattered about inconsequentialities like the new hall carpet, that made Nick feel like he couldn't breathe. All the same, he managed to get upstairs before either Marita or his mother caught them.

Laura sat next to him on the bed and pulled off her hat. "Babe, you look terrible. Are you ill?" Her hand, when she laid it on Nick's, was cold.

Nick shook his head. "Not me. It's not me. It's my parents. My dad, he -" Nick's lips opened around the word, but his tongue refused to push it out. He looked helplessly at Laura.

"He's ill?" guessed Laura. "Oh, then - are they splitting up?"

"Yes," said Nick. He wondered why he was blushing, but when Laura's hand on his face came away wet, he realised the sudden heat was from tears.

"Oh honey," said Laura. She wrapped her hands around his arm and laid her head on his shoulder. "I'm so, so sorry. Have they been fighting?"

"They never fight," said Nick. "They're barely ever in the same room together."

"Ah." Laura's hands tightened. "So, has he moved out or - what?"

"He left a note." Nick shifted restlessly, sliding his arm gently out of Laura's grip and standing up. The room was cold. Marita probably hadn't switched the heating on. "I don't know where he's gone ... have you ever heard of a band called the Shamrockers?"

Laura looked astonished by this non sequiter, but she said after a minute, "Yeah, I think my dad has their greatest hits. And that one song everyone knows, Dance Baby or something -"

"My dad was in it," said Nick.

"In what?"

"In the Shamrockers. He was - is - their rhythm guitarist." Nick walked over to his duvet and began mindlessly shuffling it.

"Wow," said Laura. "That's - it's hard to picture him. They were very glam rock, you know, on the cover of the album they're all wearing makeup and glitter."

Nick thought of the time he'd worn Finbarr's eyeliner and felt his chest constrict. "It feels like I don't know him at all. Like he's some stranger who was just posing as my dad all these years."

"I'm sure it's not like that," said Laura. "Just because he and your mam aren't in love any more, it doesn't mean he doesn't love you. And they loved each other enough to have you, so that's something."

"But not enough," said Nick bitterly.

There was a glum silence after that. Nick could hear the ticking of the grandfather clock in the hall. Nick's dad had said it was a family heirloom, but maybe that wasn't true. Maybe he'd bought it cheap at an auction of a bankrupt family. Maybe he'd stolen it. If you could hide something as big as a career as a famous musician, what else might you be capable of hiding?

Maybe he wasn't even Nick's real dad.

Maybe that was why he'd left.

"There's something else I have to tell you," said Nick, his voice spluttering like a rusty rifle. "I - I want us to break up."

He forced himself to look at Laura as he said it. He, at least, would act like a man in this situation.

Laura's mouth dropped open; her eyes filmed over, but she dashed at them angrily. "But - why? Don't you love me anymore?"

"I think I'll always love you," said Nick quietly. "I don't think that's something that can be undone. But it's just ... not all there is."

Laura was crying in earnest now, but still slapping her cheeks to stem the flow. "There's someone else, isn't there? How else could you say you still love me and do this to me? There's someone else!"

Nick thought of Robbie. He couldn't really be described as 'someone else'. He was everything else.

Laura's nose turned bright red when she cried, and this time was no exception. Nick felt a strong urge to sit on the bed and hug her till she felt better, but he was fairly sure such a move would not be welcomed - or worse, misconstrued.

He didn't answer Laura's accusation, which caused her to weep harder. Nick steeled himself, not moving as Laura’s grief reached a crescendo and calmed again. She mopped her face with the end of her scarf.

"I suppose I'll just - go," she said dully.

Nick caught her hand. He struggled for a moment, while hope bloomed on Laura's face. "I am sorry," he said at last.

Laura's hand grew limp and dropped away. "But not enough," she said. Nick listened to her footsteps as she slowly descended the stairs. They paused for a while before he heard the front door open and close. Only then did Nick allow himself to breathe.

+++

Immediately after Laura left, Nick felt fine. His relief at doing the right thing - and it was obvious that it was the right thing, because it was also the hardest and most painful - was overwhelming. He even started to get hungry, and regret throwing away his soup. It was a weirdly normal sensation.

It wasn't until he reached up for the packet of Kimberly Mikados that the gut-tearing guilt hit him - from behind, like a cheat. For a moment Nick thought it was literally smacking him around the head. It took him several seconds longer than it should have to realise that biscuits were falling from the precariously tilted packet above. He pushed it safely back on to the shelf and knelt down, mechanically picking up the crushed and twisted remains of the fallen. They filled both his hands, sticky pink crumbs scraping through the gaps in his fingers. For the life of him, he couldn't think what to do with them next. Laura's voice reveberated in his head, reciting every sentence of their last exchange, but stressing some words unexpectedly. Every time he thought she'd finished, she started again from a different point, shrieking 'ands' and 'buts' and 'enoughs'.

Nick carefully tucked his handfuls of broken biscuit into a gap between two jars of spaghetti sauce. His bare feet crunched over the floor as he drifted out of the pantry. His elbow swept a cup of tea from the counter, knocking a lukewarm gush over his toes. He should do something about that, too, but he couldn't quite remember what. All his thoughts were in Laura's voice, so he didn't want to think them.

He padded a trail of pale brown footprints into the cream twill carpet across the hall and up the stairs. A peculiar wailing came from the direction of his mother's studio. She always listened to the Bee Gees when she was working.

A shot of surprise bounced through the curtain of guilt suffocating Nick. His mother needed to be absolutely calm when she worked, and would often use methods of coercion, bribery and minor domestic violence to achieve this. In the midst of a creative fit she wouldn't allow any TV or radio to be turned on in the house, in case she heard something to upset her. In her current state of mind, Nick thought painting should be last thing she was capable of.

A cannonball of surprise awaited Nick when he opened the door of his mother's studio. It was a mess of contradictions, as well as just plain messy. His mother usually kept her studio in a state of surgical cleanliness, as if she expected a hygeine audit at any minute. She painted at arm's length from her canvases, wearing a pristine smock - any one of half a dozen she had specially made for her by a designer friend. She even wore full makeup to paint. "It's a job, just like any other," she always insisted.

But not today. Dressed in ratty sweatpants, which Nick thought might actually be his own, and with a dying cigarette clenched in her teeth, Mrs Hedges was getting up close and personal with a small canvas. Her usual pieces were a minimum of four feet by five - designed to be ignored in corporate hallways or intimidating in drafty galleries.

"I thought you gave up smoking," said Nick.

"I lied," said Mrs Hedges. She didn't turn around, or even startle, at the unexpected intrusion. In normal times, Nick practically had to make an appointment to visit her here.

Nick stepped closer, peering around her shoulder. There were huge splodges of paint all over the floor, as he discovered when he stepped in one. Half a dozen canvases were carelessly tossed behind Mrs Hedges' easel. Some of them were still wet and smudged from rough handling. Each one of them was of a man's face, and all of them were massively raw and angry. As Nick watched, his mother swiped her brush through a wine glass full of red paint and half-threw it at the canvas. It landed awkwardly across the portrait's mouth. Mrs Hedges ground her paintbrush in, destroying any semblance of facial features in a storm of haemoglobin.

"So," said Nick, "you're not mad at Dad at all, huh."

"No, I'm not," said Mrs Hedges, completely sincere - which was pretty much the Hiroshima of surprises. "That bastard Polo, on the other hand..." Her voice trailed off as she pushed the paintbrush against the canvas so hard the handle broke. "Shit!" She tossed it on to a pile of similarly abused artistic implements, including a palette knife bent practically at right angles. "He wanted Danny to abandon me when I got pregnant, you know. Said I'd trapped him. Got pregnant on purpose." She didn't seem to realise she was crying as she rummaged through her brush box for a fresh one. "Danny was the one who wanted kids. Polo never believed him when he said he was happy about it. Oh, I know they both think I'm a Yoko, but it was Polo who forced him to leave the band, not me."

Such a deluge of conversation from Mrs Hedges was quite extraordinary. She usually excelled at deflecting personal questions - that, or extensively discussing such riveting topics as her new curtains. Nick could clearly remember every time she'd talked about her early life with Nick's dad, because it happened so seldom. Nick knew that her parents hadn't approved of the marriage, but they'd come around by the time Nick was old enough to remember anything. Nick always found it hard to believe that anyone could disapprove of his boring and strait-laced father. It was slightly easier to believe, now.

"I knew," continued Mrs Hedges, slightly calmer. There was still manic edge to the way she twirled a paintbrush loaded with black, though. "I just had this feeling, when someone mentioned Polo at a party. They'd have no reason to mention him except that he's coming back and wanting to take my husband with him. I suppose it makes sense: Danny was the only thing in the world he cared about besides himself."

"He sounds like a real charmer," said Nick. This time Mrs Hedges did jump, and Nick knew she'd forgotten he was even there.

"Yes," she agreed bitterly. "Even when he'd taken enough drugs to stock a pharmacy he had that twinkle in his eye. Sometimes I think Danny - but. It's not like I couldn't see it." She advanced on Nick, who was afraid she might treat him as a living canvas. "It's not like I couldn't see how the world for Danny was just a background to Polo. But I thought he loved me."

"He did - he does," said Nick. "I mean, if he stayed with you - he must have wanted to."

"Yes," said Mrs Hedges. "But you'll find that when you get the things you want, they just become the things you have."

Nick hesitated, then reached for his mother. She resisted the embrace at first, but Nick persisted.

"My face is wet," she remarked, muffled by his shoulder.

"I broke up with Laura," he said in reply.

"What? Why?" Mrs Hedges jerked back. She gripped him by the shoulders and stared into his eyes. "Oh god, you're just like him."

"What do you mean?" Nick wasn't sure if that was supposed to be an insult or not. After all, children usually at least resembled their fathers.

Mrs Hedges just shook her head and returned to her painting. She washed it all over in watery grey paint as Nick watched, turning it into a rain-clouded sky.

+++

"Where's Laura?" was the first thing Jack asked when he thumped down his lunch tray.

"Not here," said Nick in irritation, wondering why the phrase sounded so familiar. With a warm tingle, he realised he sounded like Robbie.

"Well, is she coming?" Jack persisted. Before Nick could answer, Padraig strolled up.

"No girl's gonna come when you're around," he said, and brayed a laugh. This rolled off Jack like water off a plastic duck, but Nick thought he saw a flash of irritation in Jack's eyes. If so, it would be the first time; Jack was famously easy to tease, because most of it went over his head. At least, that was what they all assumed.

"It's not like her, that's all," muttered Jack. Padraig, clanging his cutlery, didn't hear.

"Laura isn't having lunch with us today," said Nick. Jack opened his mouth, so Nick hurried on. "Or ever again. We broke up last night."

Padraig dropped his fork. Jack's mouth flattened into a straight line.

"Did she do the dirty on you?" demanded Padraig. "That bitch."

"Laura isn't a bitch," said Jack. "She's a nice girl. Right, Nick?"

"Yes," said Nick, a little surprised at Jack's initiative. "She would never do something like that." Not like me, he thought. He wondered when he had become a person who could think that.

Padraig looked bewildered. It was clear that he couldn't comprehend there being another reason to forgo regular sex. "So what happened?"

"Nothing," lied Nick. "It just wasn't working."

"Don't give me that shit," said Padraig. "You're not on Oprah. Was she not putting out? Are you doing the dirty?"

That struck a little too close to home, although Nick was pretty sure Padraig didn't notice Nick's flinch. "I don't really want to talk about it," he said firmly. "And don't go around saying anything bad about her, either. I broke up with her, so she's probably more upset than me."

"Huh," said Jack.

They ate lunch in uneasy silence after that. Nick slipped out his phone under the table. come to practise this evening? he texted Robbie. A few seconds later the reply came through. i just might. hot sweaty men :P. Nick grinned, but quickly deleted the message. He glanced around surreptitiously, trying to spot where Robbie was sitting. To his surprise it was with a group of Laura's friends. When he caught Nick looking, Robbie passed a hand through his hair. To anyone else it looked casual, but Nick interpreted it as a greeting.

When he returned his gaze to his plate, Jack was watching him strangely. "What?" asked Nick.

"Nothing," said Jack. "Are you eating the rest of that sausage?"

+++

"Nice to see you back, Mr Hedges," said the coach sardonically. "I take it your mystery illness cleared up?"

"Yes," said Nick, cowed. His coach scared him; she had bigger muscles than most of the guys on the team. Plus, she'd called him Mr Hedges - was that even his name? Was it supposed to be Nick Head? Amongst the sea of antipathy Nick felt toward his father bobbed a tiny buoy of gratitude. His life would have been far different had it contained the mocking potential of Head as a last name.

"Well, what are you waiting for? Start warming up!"

The soothing repetition of running, matching his steps to the ball, driving his whole body up to shoot, relaxed Nick even as his heart raced and his legs burned. The hall filled with the squeak of shoes on the court surface, interspersed with thuds and grunts of effort.

The coach separated Nick and the reserve point guard and had them practise three-pointers. As Nick shook his wet hair out of his eyes and took a long slug from his water bottle, he noticed a figure sitting on the bleachers. The gravity-defying hairstyle revealed Robbie's identity. Nick grinned like a loon and failed to notice his teammate tagging him. He still managed to pluck the ball from the air at two seconds' notice; he felt even better about it because Robbie was watching.

Showing off added an extra edge to his performance. Laura had once told him he looked 'totally hot' on the court, and while memories of her were the last thing he wanted on his mind, he couldn't help hoping that Robbie might share her sentiments. Even the coach was moved to remark that he had certainly made up for missing the last practice by his efforts.

"But mind you don't burn yourself out," was her doom-laden warning. Nick didn't take much notice; the coach disliked praise on principle, and would never say a good thing when she could fit in a bad thing too.

Nick dallied behind the others when practise finished, playing with his shoelaces and the lid of his water bottle. At last, he was left alone on the court. He took the stairs on the bleachers two at a time. Robbie turned his face up to greet him and Nick couldn't resist the urge to pull him up by the chin and kiss him. For one heady minute, Robbie let him. But he made a noise of dissent and broke away.

"What?" Nick looked around. "There's no one here." Belatedly, he realised his odour of sweat and ball plastic mightn't be the most attractive, and he blushed.

Robbie said nothing. He was staring at Nick with a peculiar expression on his face. It reminded Nick of Christmas advertisements of rosy-cheeked children peering wistfully through toyshop windows.

"I have something to tell you," Nick burst out. "I broke up with Laura."

"Oh." If anything, Robbie's face fell at this revelation. Nick was hurt.

"I thought you'd be - pleased," he said. "I mean, you were mad before because I was messing her around."

"I'm not pleased," said Robbie. Before Nick could choose between horror and anger, Robbie continued, "I'm amazed."

Nick beamed. He leaned forward to kiss Robbie softly on the lips. Robbie sighed into it, opening his mouth and sliding his hands around Nick's hips where his t-shirt clung to his damp skin. He can't be too bothered about the sweat, thought Nick giddily.

This time it was Nick who broke the kiss. "Will you come to the party now?" he asked. He wasn't sure he wanted to go around introducing Robbie as his boyfriend just yet - it was disrespectful to Laura, for one thing. But he wanted Robbie there, for the cake and presents and dancing, and for after, alone in the dark. He wanted Robbie around pretty much all the time, and his skin was still fizzling with delight that Robbie had shown up to watch his practise.

"Nick." Robbie's hands fell away from Nick's sides. "We can't. I can't do this."

"What do you mean? It's only a party. You don't have to come, of course, but -"

Robbie shook his head so violently his hair lost some of its stiffness and whirled around his face. "Not the party. All of it. I can't be with you."

"I don't understand."

"There's nothing to understand," said Robbie. "It was only a few kisses, it's not like we're soulmates or something."

"Yes. We are," said Nick. He sat down abruptly. "You said so."

Robbie curled his mouth derisively. "Look, Nick, it's not you. I just - I can't explain it to you. Besides, do you really want to deal with the repercussions of having a girlfriend with a dick?"

"No," said Nick. "But I might be able to handle having a boyfriend." He looked away from Robbie's face. He might have courage, but he didn't have that much. "It's not the middle ages. Besides, I never realised you cared about all that."

"I don't. You do."

"Don't put this all on me!" Nick jumped up. "You prance around thinking you're all unique and different, but when push comes to shove you're just like everyone else. I'm not ashamed to say I like you, but I'm fucking not going to be with someone who is!" He took a flying leap that brought him four steps down from Robbie, jarring his knee painfully.

"Nick!" Robbie cried out, sounding genuinely alarmed. Nick shook out his knee and ran down the rest of the steps.

This was officially the worst week of his life.

+++

Nick's party was the only topic of conversation on Friday. It even beat out the X Factor. The thought of it oppressed him. His mother was out of commission, Marita was still sobbing into the washing up, they didn't have a tea-free cup in the house and worst of all, worst of anything, he'd lost Robbie. The last thing Nick wanted to do was celebrate his own life. Unfortunately, it was far too late to cancel. Supplies had started being delivered on Thursday evening and more were coming when he left for school on Friday. He'd probably end up doing most of the preparation himself. He thought he'd rather visit the dentist for four hours straight.

He was surprised when he arrived home to find the house in a bustle. White-hatted caterers buzzed around, turning the vast sitting room into a fairyland of multicoloured lights, spiky candles and masses of spider-lilies. Another horde of helpers heaved trestle tables into the dining room and spread them with white cloths, tureens of black and green grapes and silver ivy garlands. And that was only the decoration. The food itself was ferried from the kitchen to the dining room with impressive speed.

In the midst of it all his mother, already dressed in trailing drapes of navy velvet, brandished a clipboard and a glass of champagne. She broke off yelling at a recaltricant waiter when she spotted Nick.

"Hello darling." She left two stripes of war paint on each of his cheeks. "It's all systems go here. Why don't you head on upstairs and get ready? I've laid out your suit and Marita's cleaned your bathroom at long last."

"You look ... better," ventured Nick. His mother graced him with a brittle smile.

"Better than what, darling?" was her unanswerable question.

Nick slowly climbed the stairs. Although he was the cause of this whirlwind of activity, he felt he was at the calm, empty eye of the storm.

Marita had done more than clean the bathroom: she'd run a bath and filled it with rose-scented bubbles and enough bath salts to make lying it in feel like rolling in gravel. All the same, Nick lay there until the bubbles dispersed and his fingers creased up. As the water lapped at his throat, he suddenly thought of Robbie's mouth. It made him inexpressibly sad to think he'd never get to kiss Robbie again. He hadn't got anywhere near his fill of touching Robbie. His hand drifted down his bare stomach, but he didn't have the heart to go any further. Between his father, Laura and Robbie, his heart hadn't exactly broken, but it had got so knocked about that it was cowering from any further injury. And the water was cold.

His toiletries - hair gel, face wash and shaving set - had been helpfully set out in the order of their use. Nick smiled, although the expression didn't translate to his face. Marita had given him an ugly card and a voucher for HMV, but her real gift was in trying to make his party preparations relaxing.

There was an unfamiliar box sitting on the windowsill. Nick frowned when he opened it and saw an array of Dior cosmetics. His mother had numerous makeup kits, all anally retentively stored by designer brand. Marita must have left this one here by mistake.

Instead of closing the lid, Nick dragged his hand over the neatly stacked pots and boxes. His fingers rolled over a set of pencils. An idea occurred to him.

"Are you nearly ready, dear?" called Marita through the door. Nick remembered distantly that before the business with his father, Marita had been very excited about the party, and had dragged her boyfriend around the shops for seven consecutive weekends in order to find the perfect dress. "Your mother wants you to taste the hors d'oeuvres."

Nick closed his hand around a rich black khol. "Yeah, Marita," he replied, "I'll be out in a minute."

+++

The two reception rooms were already milling with guests when Nick eventually came down, a little shaky but determined. Most of the people there were his mother's guests, old enough to appreciate the food and come early to get as much of it as possible. His mother, when she caught him and began introducing him as the star, didn't even appear to notice his eyes. Her compatriots certainly did, but seeing as they purported to be artists living in the hinterlands of conformity they could say nothing, only make faces at each other when they thought he couldn't see.

His mother's hostess duties soon took her away and Nick made a beeline for the drinks table. That was where Padraig found him, one of the first arrivals and the first to make for the drinks with such alacrity. Finbarr and his band trailed behind, all of them wearing Converse under suit pants.

Padraig grinned and opened his suit jacket: a naggin of whiskey was installed in each inner pocket. Nick didn't like to point out the three bottles of whiskey sitting on the table for anyone to take; it would surely have dulled the shine of Padraig's victory.

Padraig had clearly imbibed on the way, for he was loudly and brashly effusive as he mocked Finbarr, Nick and the food. "What the fuck have you got round your eyes?" he demanded, squinting blearily at Nick.

"Massive head injury," said Nick. "I've bled into my eye sockets."

"Huh." Padraig cocked his head. "Bad luck, begorrah. Have a drink, it'll fix all your problems."

Nick caught Finbarr's eye over his brother's head and grinned. Finbarr mimicked outlining his eyes and mouthed, "Pretty." Nick's smile turned bashful.

At Padraig's suggestion, Nick was more than happy to sit on the stairs and drink with him. It was the perfect place to meet guests as they arrived to the open front door - and the perfect way to avoid having to spend any time with them. Padraig was quite a comfortable companion when he was drunk, aside from his overly-detailed analyses of the attractions of each female he saw. Nick refused to be drawn into a rating scale, on the basis of which Padraig was to choose a companion for the night - but Padraig was happy enough to conduct such studies on his own.

After an hour or two, the steady flow of arrivals decreased to a trickle, then a dribble, then nothing. Everyone who was coming had come and was pressed into the living room dancing, or into the dining room eating. The tiny balloon of hope Nick was carrying about Robbie changing his mind squealed out of existence.

Padraig blundered off to find his target and Nick followed reluctantly. To drink alone at his own eighteenth would invite unnecessary comment, in the way drinking with everyone else would not. He was nodding along to the incomprehensible conversation of a couple of the boys in his class when he felt a tap on his shoulder.

He turned around to see Jack for the first time that night - and, shockingly, Laura. Nick's face must have asked the question he was unable to vocalise, because Jack said, "I told her to come. You still invited her."

"I did," said Nick dazedly. He pecked Laura on the cheek, a move she took with good, if frigid, grace.

"I wanted to give you this." Laura thrust a slim package at him. It had been wrapped with care and a huge froofy bow. Nick felt an ache of sorrow. "I couldn't return it anyway, so you might as well have it." She took a deep, shaky breath. "Happy birthday, Nick."

"Thank you," said Nick. He was deeply moved. Laura looked pretty, with her hair in rigid curls and dressed in a strapless silver number that matched the bow on his present.

“Just so you know,” she said. “I wouldn’t have minded. About –” she waved her hand at Nick’s face. “I wouldn’t have minded.”

“I know,” said Nick quietly, who did. Laura threw a helpless look at Jack before walking away, her head held high.

"Go on," Jack's voice broke into his stupor. "Open it. She's been talking my ear off about it for months."

The expensive paper came away in Nick's hands. He gave the bow to Jack, who pocketed it. A plain black box threw Nick into confusion. He'd been expecting a CD or a book. He looked up at Jack, who nodded encouragingly.

Inside the box was a striped shirt with the number three on it. Nick lifted it out and as the folds straightened, he read the printed words: Shaqueal O'Neal.

"She bought it online," said Jack. "She wanted it to bring you luck."

"Oh, god." Nick pressed a hand blindly to his face. Jack held out a glass.

"It's only water," said Jack. "I think you've had a bit too much to drink, eh?"

Nick slurped messily at the water. Jack took the shirt out of his hands and clumsily returned it to its box, in a state of far greater disarray than it had emerged.

"Where's Robbie?" asked Jack, after a minute. Nick gave him a keen look. Jack gazed innocently back, wearing the same expression of bovine of indifference as ever.

"He wouldn't come," muttered Nick.

"Shame," said Jack. "Maybe you should go get him."

"Leave the party?" Nick looked at him in bewilderment.

"You're having a terrible time, you look miserable, and Robbie's not here," said Jack, which Nick had to admit was a masterful summation of events. "Look it, you're wearing makeup and I saw you kissing him yesterday. Wherever you're supposed to be, it isn't here."

"You saw -" Nick gaped. Jack shrugged, like it wasn't any more important than seeing Nick eat his lunch. Which, in a way, it wasn't.

"Don't worry." Jack's grin was sudden and sharp. "I didn't tell Paudie. He might need a bit of ... advance warning."

Nick went to hug Jack, who stepped back hurriedly. "None of that, now," he warned. "The only person who gets to hug me is my mammy."

"Thank you," said Nick.

"Just get out of here," said Jack. "Your long face is making me depressed. Don't worry, I'll tell everyone you're in the jacks."

"I might be gone longer than that," said Nick.

Jack cast a baleful eye around the room's occupants, all of whom were in various stages of inebriation. Jack, Nick noticed, was holding a can of 7Up. "Hate to break it to you," said Jack, "but I doubt they'll notice."

+++

It was ten o'clock by the time Nick arrived at Robbie's house. He leaned on the bell till Frances answered the door. The cold air had done nothing to sober him up, but Nick wasn't blaming the alcohol.

"Why, hello dear. Don't you look smart?"

"Where's Robbie? I mean," Nick gulped, "I really need to see Robbie. Is he in?"

"Well, no." Frances gave him a strange look. "His dad took him to Dublin to the physio. Didn't he tell you?"

The words landed like a blow. "No," said Nick slowly, "he didn't." There were physios in Cork, Nick knew that well. Why would Robbie need to go all the way to Dublin to see one? Robbie didn't seem sick, and he'd never mentioned an injury. It was a mystery, and Nick was starting to hate mysteries with a fiery passion.

"They should be back fairly soon," Frances offered. "If you like, you can wait for him -?"

"Yes, please," said Nick. "I'd like to wait for him." He stepped inside.

+++

Nick didn't think he'd be able to relax in Robbie's room without Robbie in it, but anything was better than making small talk with Frances while she knitted booties for Robbie's niece. He browsed Robbie's extensive book collection and in fact, when he heard a car pull up outside, he was surprised to find an hour had passed. John Irving was more enthralling than he looked.

Nick put the book aside and sat up straight. He brushed down the fronts of his immaculate pants and, when he heard a slow tread on the stairs, clasped his hands together.

Robbie stopped stock still in the doorway, but he didn't look surprised; Nick gathered Frances had warned Robbie of his presence. Nick lifted his chin and stared. Robbie met his gaze with a level one of his own.

Nick was determined not to speak first. Robbie was the one with the explaining to do. But Robbie didn't say a word. Instead, he closed the door with a gentle click and came to stand in front of Nick. He was wearing a long grey cardigan over a white t-shirt and jeans. He pulled off the cardigan first, kicked away his shoes and went for his belt buckle. With precise movements, his eyes fixed on Nick's face, Robbie pulled open his zipper and pushed down his jeans. Nick was distracted for a second by the cute sheep on Robbie's boxers, before the movement of Robbie stepping out of his jeans drew his gaze downwards.

He was wearing odd socks. The one on the right was blue and white stripes; the one on the left was a thick red hiking sock. Despite his resolution not to speak, Nick was about to make a smart comment when he saw - it.

Robbie only had one leg. A fine covering of black hair swirled around his right leg and disappeared beneath his sock. On the left side, the hair stopped abruptly a few inches below his knee - as did his skin. The stump of his leg was slightly pinker than the rest and bisected by a thick scar. It sat in a cup held on with two straps.

"But wait, there's more," said Robbie, in a mocking tone. He bent his left knee, wincing slightly, and pulled off the sock.

The foot was grotesque: a parody of a human foot, with toenails carved into the plastic, it was nevertheless monstrous. Nick stared; he couldn't help it. He forced himself to look up, however, and into Robbie's face. Unsurprisingly, Robbie looked miserable, but also slightly triumphant.

"My best friend used to live on a farm," he began, then corrected himself: "Well, he probably still does, we're just not friends any more. Lawsuits will do that. There was a threshing machine, we were bored – not a good combination.”

Nick reached out and hesitated. Robbie shrugged. "You can touch it. I won't feel anything, obviously." Nick bit his lip and placed his palm around the cool plastic. It felt normal but also wrong, because his mind was telling him that warm human skin should be there. He slid his hand up to where the stump met the prosthesis. Robbie gasped.

"Does it hurt?"

Robbie shook his head. "Just - feels weird."

Nick kept his hand on what was left of Robbie's leg when he asked, "Is this why you acted so weird yesterday?"

"Is this why -" Robbie laughed, although humour was the last thing on Nick's mind. "No. I just deluded myself into thinking I could have a normal life. It was already too much to expect that I could have a band. A hot guy liking me back - me - Long John Silver - it's fucking ridiculous. I can't think of a better passion killer than this -" he pointed at the leg "- thing."

Nick didn't know what to say. In many respects Robbie was right. Looking at Robbie's leg turned Nick's stomach a little, and he was already thinking of how it would impact their - intimate relations. But then he realised the fact that he was considering it meant that he still wanted it to happen. So he did the only thing he could think of, which was to lean forward just a little and kiss the seam that ended Robbie's leg.

Robbie's hand landed in his hair and clenched in, hard. "You had a perfect girlfriend," he said, his voice hard. "You had the perfect life. Why would you exchange all that for me?"

Nick thought of his father, who had a beautiful, expensive home, a rich wife and a bright, well-behaved son; a well-paying, secure job and all the comforts money could buy. He'd given it all up for an uncertain future in an ex-eighties rock band, with no guarantees of happiness blossoming from the wasteland of heartbreak he'd left behind. He trailed his hand up Robbie's side, lifting his shirt a little to reveal the sword and the two inches between Robbie's waist and hip that turned Nick's stomach all giddy.

"I suppose I'm just my father's son," he said.

"Yes, I'm my father's son too," said Robbie. "I'll think you'll find most people are. The point I'm really building up to here is: so?"

"My dad ... ran things," said Nick. "He was responsible and mature and he took care of things. I suppose I always thought I took after him, mainly because I couldn't paint a wall. I think he and my mother got along well for a long time. But I don't want to wait till I'm forty-five till I start living."

"You might have lost your good looks by then," Robbie agreed. They sat in silence for a long time, but Nick felt happy to sit and think with his thumb wrapped around Robbie's. It was Robbie's leg twitching that made him move. He leaned over and pressed his lips to Robbie's, nuzzling against the dry outer curve. Robbie shivered and broke the kiss, kneading his thigh with a fist.

"Are you okay?" Nick asked.

"Fine," said Robbie. He hopped over to retrieve his jeans. "Sometimes my leg just thinks it still has a foot attached, you know?"

Nick didn't, but he nodded anyway. Robbie walked over to his guitars, shaking out his leg as he did so. "I suppose I'll have to teach you an instrument," he said, sounding long-suffering.

"Why's that?"

"You don't want to be a groupie, do you? Hanging around just for sex with the band?"

"I don't know," said Nick. "Sounds good to me. Think Finbarr would be up for it?"

"Finbarr," said Robbie, low and dangerous, "doesn't get dibs on my boyfriend."

"You have a boyfriend?" yelped Nick, pretending to be outraged. He grinned at Robbie's scornful look, seeing how thinly it lay over his uncertainty.

"Seriously, though," he said. "Otherwise you'll turn into a football widow, only with music, and that would be nothing less than tragic."

"But you already have about three guitar players in your band," Nick pointed out. "I think four might be overkill."

"True," mused Robbie. "Pity you don't play keyboard, actually. Finbarr and I finally convinced Declan to kick Kevin out."

Nick started to smile. "Well," he said, "I've always wanted to learn the piano..."



THE END
 
 
Current Mood: happyhappy
Current Music: running // fred
 
 
 
Blindmouseblindmouse on December 21st, 2009 07:45 pm (UTC)
This is still the most charming story in the world, Rachel. And I love this new ending, a lot. And Polo Byrne is an awesome rockstar name ;)

And now I have to go do all the packing I didn't do last night because I'm leaving in two hours, so I don't get to reread the rest of this, but in general: original fic \o/ So good \o/
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on December 21st, 2009 08:27 pm (UTC)
lol, I can't take credit for Polo Byrne AT ALL - that was all ravurian. :D I'm so glad you like the new ending - I'm much more pleased with it. Made Helen read it sentence by sentence, teehee.

HAVE FUN ON YOUR HOLLIERS. And thank you, again again again, for all your help. ♥
oceaxeoceaxe on December 21st, 2009 09:14 pm (UTC)
Ah-dorable. I really loved this. If you want constructive criticism, I have some to offer, but overall I just though this was the bees' knees.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: winter of discontentscoradh on December 22nd, 2009 06:46 pm (UTC)
Oh sure, bring it on! I'm guessing I already know the faults you'll point out - though I'm open to surprises! - but there came a point where it was continue editing ad infinitum, or post the damn thing. I know I did Laura no justice and the whole thing hangs together a little oddly. But my interest has turned to other projects now ... still, hit me! :D
girl; obsessed: **other - cat girl**complications_g on December 21st, 2009 10:58 pm (UTC)
Oh man, this was so lovely! ♥

I have to admit, the fact that Nick had a girlfriend worried me at first, but I like how you dealt with it. And the bit with Jack at the party was great. And Robbie! He's just really awesome.

So basically, I love this. And you have such awesome timing, I was just looking for something new and good to read.

And I just re-read a bunch of you HP stuff the other day, and ♥♥♥
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Fashion: bead braceletsscoradh on December 22nd, 2009 06:48 pm (UTC)
Oh, yes, the Girlfriend Factor. I forgot how that might put people off! I'm glad you had faith in me anyway. ♥

It is my Christmas present to fandom! It's up to ye to decide if it's an awesome giftcard or grey socks. :DDD

lol, i was trying to remember the names of half those stories for helen - and failed...
(no subject) - complications_g on December 23rd, 2009 03:39 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - scoradh on December 23rd, 2009 11:45 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - complications_g on December 23rd, 2009 08:32 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - scoradh on December 23rd, 2009 09:14 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - complications_g on December 26th, 2009 02:03 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - scoradh on December 26th, 2009 12:11 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - complications_g on December 28th, 2009 03:32 pm (UTC) (Expand)
the claw-foot Lady: [stock] are you the love ofsoftlyforgotten on December 21st, 2009 11:15 pm (UTC)
Man, this is still so awesome and lovely. I love the changes you've made, too, and the end. :DDDDDD
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Fooish: yellow doughnutscoradh on December 22nd, 2009 06:49 pm (UTC)
C'est better, non? :D I think for once I did good on my ending. There's a first time for everything!

&YOU;
no sequels forthcoming: Champagnedisarm_d on December 21st, 2009 11:26 pm (UTC)
This is fantastic. I love the way you write original slash. This felt like such a complete story, with all of the characters fully developed, and I thought it was a great read.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: halowrites: pink doughnutscoradh on December 22nd, 2009 06:50 pm (UTC)
Why, thank you, my darling! I realise reading original fic is always a gamble, so I'm happy it paid off for you. :DDD
tell me your heart doesn't race for a hurricanejocondite on December 22nd, 2009 08:16 am (UTC)
Eeeee, oh my gosh I loved this ridiculously. How are you so good at writing original slash? I love your characters even without prior investment - the characterisation is so complete without being in the least info-dumpy. ♥
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: halowrites: awesome tightsscoradh on December 22nd, 2009 06:51 pm (UTC)
That just reminds me - the first time I came across you was just after Elephants. :D ORIGINAL FIC UNITING THE WORLD, uh-huh. ♥
(no subject) - jocondite on December 23rd, 2009 01:23 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - scoradh on December 23rd, 2009 11:47 am (UTC) (Expand)
(Deleted comment)
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: collapsingnight: pier jumpingscoradh on December 22nd, 2009 06:57 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! I always end up saying 'But why?' about villains - plus it is so hard to SPELL D: - so I can't justifiably write them. And it's also great that you like Nick! I was terribly afraid he actually had no personality.

Ditto for your wonderful comment! ♥
Remus Buttplug Facelazy_daze on December 22nd, 2009 02:37 pm (UTC)
This is AWESOME. *_*
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: iconomicons girl of lightscoradh on December 22nd, 2009 06:52 pm (UTC)
YOU. &sparklyhearts;
Alexis: OMG yayjapanimecrazed on December 22nd, 2009 05:18 pm (UTC)
I really like this. :)
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: xmas: fairy lightsscoradh on December 22nd, 2009 06:53 pm (UTC)
Thank yooooooooou. :DDD
oops: Heart in lightsoddishly on December 22nd, 2009 07:54 pm (UTC)
OH HEY YOU. LOOK LOOK, I AM TALKING TO YOU FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE -- whatever the sea it is that divides us, idk -- AND I STILL LOVE THE STORY.

"There's nothing to understand," said Robbie. "It was only a few kisses, it's not like we're soulmates or something."

"Yes. We are," said Nick. He sat down abruptly. "You said so."


I don't think I told you first time around, but I really really really love that line from Nick :)
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on December 22nd, 2009 08:09 pm (UTC)
I do believe it's the Irish Sea? But I was also thinking the Channel, so - don't trust me. :P

Well, someone tells you something like that, you tend to believe them!

ALSO HELEN MY HAT IS AWESOME I AM STARING AT IT WITH HEARTEYES AND IT'S STARING BACK AND ITS MOUTH IS MY HEAD. :DDD
(no subject) - oddishly on December 22nd, 2009 08:13 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - scoradh on December 23rd, 2009 11:48 am (UTC) (Expand)
fat girl rules the world: Love xkcdfatgirlrules on December 22nd, 2009 08:49 pm (UTC)
You are one of the most talented writers I am passingly acquainted with over the internet. Possibly the MOST talented. I am awed by your characters, your stories, your way with words...you are a rock star!

<3
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: xckdscoradh on December 23rd, 2009 11:54 am (UTC)
More correctly, I went through a phase of wanting to be a rockstar (with a purple geetar!) and wrote this instead. ;D Thank you so much for reading! I'm delighted you liked it. :DDD
No Apologiesaidenfire on December 23rd, 2009 06:52 am (UTC)
This was so, so amazingly vivid. I loved the way you developed your characters, just every single god damn one of them. The pacing was perfect and the bits of humor were just right and REALLY THIS WAS SO WELL DONE. I just want to draw sparkly hearts around their gay band of love laskjflsdkjfalsdkjfasljf LOVE IT
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Fashion: william morris-esquescoradh on December 23rd, 2009 11:56 am (UTC)
In some other universe, where I could and would write such a thing, this was totally a Finbarr/Robbie/Nick PWPfest. :P (Not.) Thank you, sweetheart! It's such a relief when people like my stories, lol. ♥
ravurian: hugh dancyravurian on December 23rd, 2009 01:13 pm (UTC)
Part A
I really, really enjoyed this; unbelievably so, actually, which you should worry about because I'm now going to talk about it. I've been told before that I don't do praise terribly effectively, so before I begin, let me just reiterate that I thought this was really very good - you've a smart eye for characterisation, a deft turn of phrase, and a natural fluidity with dialogue that's utterly enviable. However, IMO, there's good news and some other news, which is probably not news at all.

The good news is that you're a novelist! Yay! \o/

The other news (which is probably not news at all) is that you think you're a short story writer, and you're mistaken.

Oh, sure, I'm not saying you can't write short stories if you want, just that these original stories (those of yours that I've read) aren't so much examples of short fiction as they are extracts of novels - possibly the bits you're most interested in. Short stories require more discipline than novels - fewer named characters for a start (since we're conditioned as readers to log named characters as Potentially Significant to the plot), a tighter grip on the plot itself, and a greater ruthlessness in editing. You've only a short space to make your point, so you have to be focused and specific. In novels, you can sprawl more comfortably and chase down every little plot idea and tangent – the story and situations have greater capacity to evolve, and you have greater luxury to indulge yourself.

You – specific you, not generic you – seem to naturally generate novel-length ideas. You have all these tangents, all these potentially very interesting plot directions and character motivations, all these very many dangling threads that beg exploration and resolution, which are impossible to explore and resolve within the format you’ve given yourself, and which ultimately detract from the story you’ve chosen to tell. Reading is very much an exercise in puzzle-solving, I think, and in the same way that we’re conditioned to log named characters as Significant, we’re also conditioned to log their histories, interactions and dynamics as Signifciant to the plot. If it turns out that they’re simply authorial indulgence and irrelevant, then there’s always going to be an element of – well, what about X? Why get my attention and investment for X if you’re not going to do anything with it? What was the point of that?

I’m not sure whether the format is a result of time constraints (obviously you write in between V Important Business, like learning to save people’s lives), interest (or attention span), or confidence, but (of those I’ve read) your short stories go: big set up (world-building; character histories), then hop, skip, blink, bows and curtseys, TA-DAH, the end! That impression is entirely due, I think, to all the stuff that does not explicitly serve the central story rather than to any deficiency in the story itself. Certainly there’re no problems with the writing itself (although I would like it a little more visceral). I mean, let me say it again: you’re very very good, and I liked this immensely. I wonder if it’s because you've not yet got the confidence to know what serves the story? Which is odd because you write brilliantly confident fanfic - do you think that's because there are imposed constraints and conventions there that there simply aren’t when you’re writing original stuff?
ravurian: halo'd typistravurian on December 23rd, 2009 01:15 pm (UTC)
Part B
In any case, for this to work effectively as a short story (it’s fine as it is, but I mean if you wanted to submit it for publication), I think you'd have to combine Robbie and Fin, drop Jack (or combine him with Paudie; neither of them have enough to do on their own), and focus Paudie's role on facilitating the relationships between your central love triangle. You'd have to lose the housekeeper and Robbie’s parents and spend more time on the existing relationship between Nick and Laura and the developing one between Nick and Robbie – I think currently a lot of that happens off screen. I mean, why does Nick want to be with either of them if it’s not just opportunism or social pressure to be with anyone? I’m not sure you have the time to more explicitly parallel the central love triangle of Nick/Laura/Robbie with that of Danny/Polo/Mrs Hedges (whose name escapes me) without the story being double the length, but it would be very much worth playing that out, I think. I also think that the relationship between Nick and his parents is also a bit spare – why does he know nothing about them? It strikes me that their relationship is probably the most interesting of all the set ups you’ve written.

You could do all of that, of course, and have a kick-ass story. But it would be a shame, because here is a non-exhaustive list of the stories you could tell in a novel length version:

- The story of Nick and Laura's budding friendship, and blossoming romance;
- The story of Nick's emotional life at home, with distant, mostly absent parents;
- The Secret Life of Nick's parents;
- The story of Nick, Paudie and Jack;
- The story of Nick and his Fin-crush;
- The story of Robbie and Fin;
- The story of the growing chemistry between Nick and Robbie;
- The love story of Danny Head and Polo Byrne, and poor Mrs Yoko Hedges;
- The story of Nick and Laura and Robbie;
- Nick and Robbie;
- The story of Robbie's Foot;
- The story of Jack and Laura (because Jack is very clearly in love with Laura);
- The story of Danny and Polo;
- The story of Mrs Hedges, after;

I suspect that you were also half-way inclined to have something magical or otherworldly in there, possibly something to do with Danny Head's mojo having been snaffled by his wife and channelled into her art career (although her explosion of creativity on Danny’s exit suggests that they were stifling each other) – I wondered if their’s was a mixed marriage: muggle (for want of a better word) and wizard (for want of another). I thought this all the more with all the questions about Nick's musical inclinations and the very obvious ways that he was being diverted from embracing them. I thought that was going to be his coming of age tale – coming into his sexuality, his musical/magical powers (I sort of love the idea of mechanical rather than hand-wavy magic), into another world from which his dad had been exiled. Perhaps that’s just knowing a lot of your back-catalogue, but Polo’s introduction had all the classical elements of such stories – the mysterious, cryptic Other, dressed in black, tattooed and silver-ringed, the gliding car, which (I thought) was also the car that Robbie pulled Nick into the bushes to avoid on account of ‘demons’. I was primed to see Robbie as an agent of Nick’s introduction to the world that Mr Hedges had fled. So... Hmm. I was very wrong about that, LOL.

Also - where were the storms? And who wanted them?

I think, though, that in posting this story, you’ve exorcised it – stuck it in a box marked ‘done’. Which, IMO, is a huge shame, because I think you’ve hit on the idea that would have seen you published. I’m every bit as sorry as I was about the rugby story you wrote (which I loved). I’d edit for you (I can think of no higher compliment, LOL). I mean, I’d probably make you cry and you’d hate me quite a lot for a while, but I’m a magician with other people’s stuff. My literary agoraphobia only kicks in on my own stuff. Weird.

So! In short, I was saying I really, really enjoyed this, but that a) you’re not done; it’s a novel, or b) it’s a short story and you’re not done.
Part C - ravurian on December 23rd, 2009 01:15 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Part C - scoradh on December 23rd, 2009 02:51 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Part B - scoradh on December 23rd, 2009 02:49 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Part B - ravurian on December 23rd, 2009 06:09 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Part B - scoradh on December 23rd, 2009 08:56 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Part B - ravurian on December 23rd, 2009 09:10 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Part B - scoradh on December 23rd, 2009 09:17 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Part B - ravurian on December 23rd, 2009 11:00 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Part B - scoradh on December 24th, 2009 11:29 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Part A - scoradh on December 23rd, 2009 02:39 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Part A - ravurian on December 23rd, 2009 07:28 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Part A - scoradh on December 23rd, 2009 09:00 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Part A - ravurian on December 23rd, 2009 10:53 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Part A - scoradh on December 24th, 2009 11:23 am (UTC) (Expand)
lstinhpfdmlstinhpfdm on December 24th, 2009 02:06 am (UTC)
I really enjoyed this story. (Took me a while to get to it, because of the holidays.) It has a different feel than fan fiction, but still all of what I like about it.

I like how Nick knows he's gay but doesn't want to acknowledge it and how he struggles with his attractions to boys. How the boys flirt and they both seem to know they are attracted to each other without long conversations. Nick having a girlfriend and how that falls apart when he finds a boy who returns his affections. Finding out that Robbie is disabled adds a neat twist to the end.

Edited at 2009-12-24 02:13 am (UTC)
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on December 24th, 2009 11:26 am (UTC)
No worries! I am extremely voracious for comments of any timestamp! :D

I did like the twist myself, but not so much my handling of it ... practice, pratice, practice! Thank you for reading. ♥
astronaut in training!piecesof_reeses on December 25th, 2009 03:20 am (UTC)
Oh my gosh, I enjoyed this so much! Everything was incredibly vivid, especially the first concert/party. It's kind of funny; both the dad and Robbie's twists really shocked me. I think I was waiting for some kind of magical explanation, especially with Robbie's allusion to dragons. Probably I've been reading too much Harry Potter fic.

I'm sorry; I'm rambling. This was really fantastic!
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on December 31st, 2009 04:35 pm (UTC)
lol, I think I must have been leading a few people down the garden path with the 'magic' element. It's just not something I considered, but it must have come through anyway.

Thank you!