FROM BOTH SIDES NOW
Word count : 27,001
1x2x1, 1=2, drama, some lemon, alternating POV
Usual disclaimers – this is only fiction, and only my own.
Standing at the bar, I was jostled – yet again - by a thin, dark-skinned guy. He had shades perched ludicrously on the top of his head. He was dressed in leather pants and a cream-coloured shirt; had a small jewel in his ear. Semi-precious, of course. His cologne was excessive. I thought that one collision was accidental, maybe even twice could be explained away. Five times in twenty minutes was harassment.
A hand tapped lightly at my shoulder. It wasn’t the same touch as Shades, so I made a conscious effort to unclench my fist. I turned to face the man who’d arrived at my side.
“Chill,” Maxwell mouthed at me. “You only danced for two numbers.” The beat was thick and heavy under the very fabric of the club’s foundations. Conversation was a challenge at the best of times.
I mouthed something back that was barely civil, but he just smiled more broadly. He leaned across me and miraculously caught the eye of the bartender. I’d only been trying for ten minutes to have the same effect. Then he scooped up the two beers that appeared and jerked his head to one side of the bar area, indicating a free table.
We forced our way through a mass of other flushed, sweaty bodies and sat down with our drinks. It seemed that there was some natural soundproofing from nearby booths, for I could hear his words again. I could also hear the crooning of a drunken boy in a kilt at the table behind us, and the sobs of a girl in heated altercation with a lover. All that was, of course, irrelevant.
“Just how much are you hating this?” He smiled again at me. Some other expression flickered in his eyes.
“Not as much as you imagined,” I replied, calmly.
The flicker settled; his smile was more relaxed. “You lie well, Yuy.”
“I rarely lie at all,” I replied. “This is your kind of place, Maxwell; your choice. But it’s OK with me.”
He leant back in his chair. It was an artistically moulded, truly uncomfortable object, and mine had already given me a trapped muscle, twitching in my thigh. He, however, looked perfectly at home on it. This was indeed his kind of place. He knew the modern, techno dance music – his familiarity with the club scene’s social mores was also obvious. People knew him here; he’d greeted many; waved to others across the floor. They liked him and welcomed him. He looked good, too. He was casually but cleverly dressed, in clothes that fitted in the right places; moved where they needed to, presumably to showcase his easy, innate style.
He danced well. I knew that would be the case, too. I had actually danced for a half dozen tracks, not two, but had then left the dance floor to get a drink. For a while, I’d stood at the side, watching him continue, losing himself in the throbbing, thudding beat.
It had been – as always – fascinating.
His voice broke now across my thoughts. “We had down time this weekend, so I reckoned we needed to relax.” He grimaced. “My kind of relaxation, that is.”
“Your kind of relaxation -” I began, then caught his eye. “Its notoriety precedes it.”
He laughed. The lights were neon by the bar; droplets of his drink glittered their reflection on his lips.
“Yeah. That reputation’s a kind of hobby of mine, though you shouldn’t believe everything you hear.” He stared at me. For a second he looked bemused. “So I’m surprised you came along. Guess my charisma is finally getting to you.”
“An arrogant assumption, Maxwell. I didn’t say that.”
He drank from the bottle; put it back on the table. “No, you didn’t.” He laughed again, but more to himself.
“I can have a choice too, presumably? Somewhere we can spend leisure time?”
He looked startled, but nodded. “Sure. Your turn, the next Saturday we’re off duty.” He was lifting the bottle again, mischief flaring in his eyes, peering at me over the rim. “Going to be something a tad quieter, I guess. I tell you now, I don’t do libraries, Yuy. No museum archives; subtitled foreign movies; internet cafes. I like people around me who are like me – and I like living flesh.”
“Yes,” I said, careful to repress any inflection. “That notoriety precedes you, too.”
He laughed even more loudly, leaning forward, and he accidentally knocked my beer towards me. It all happened quite suddenly; I reached to catch the bottle – and so did he. Our hands gripped together around the cold glass, slippery with condensation. The bottle spun, rattling on the tabletop, then stilled.
His palm was warm against my cool knuckles.
He cleared his throat and his eyes darted over my shoulder. His hand slid quickly away from mine, leaving a sudden chill on my skin.
“Uh… to your right. Guy wants your attention.”
I twisted around on my seat, staring behind me. Shades was on the far side of the dance floor and setting a direct path towards our table. He caught my eye and mouthed something to me as he came. Of course, there was no way any conversation could have been physically heard from that distance over the throb of the music. His words seemed to be for me, but when his eyes reached beyond me to my companion, they narrowed in both interest and calculation.
Seemed he sought attention there, too.
Maxwell leaned over towards me again. I didn’t turn back to face him, but I was aware of his musky cologne. His voice murmured at my ear - not in it, but just close enough to be audible. “What’s he saying to you?”
I knew his skills at lip-reading were probably as good as mine but I let that pass. “Fuck me.”
There was a hiccup of breath from him. “Kind of crowded here at the moment, Yuy.”
I sighed. “That’s not an order. That’s what the guy’s saying to me. “
Maxwell’s soft laughter was clear, even in amongst the surrounding human clamour and the bass beat from the giant speakers. “And I always hoped it’d be a request, rather than an order.” Maybe we were both looking at Shades by then; maybe he saw something in our interaction. Whatever, there was something in the guy’s expression that suddenly tightened. He stopped moving towards us; he looked unsettled.
“You going to take him up on it?” came the murmur by my ear.
I bit my lip and my gaze ran slowly up and down Shades’ body. I felt Maxwell tense behind me.
“Like you said,” I replied. “It’s kind of crowded in here at the moment.”
He chuckled. “Saving yourself for me, huh?”
“Like I said – an arrogant assumption.”
Another chuckle. “Now Shades, there: he’s not so bad. With subdued lighting and after a couple more beers.”
“That reference is from personal experience?”
Maxwell shrugged; his shoulder bumped against my back with the movement. “Some fooling around, that’s all. Months back. Haven’t been interested since.”
My eyes were on Shades, but they weren’t properly focussed. “I suspect he’s pissed about that.”
Shades looked from me to my companion. He could see we were discussing something: he could probably guess it was him. He looked extremely pissed, but not prepared to challenge us about anything. I wondered what there would be to challenge, if he did – and what I might do about it. Then he was jostled by a group passing him on the way to dance and he took the opportunity to turn and sweep off amongst them.
Saving face, maybe. It amused me.
The body behind me shifted; there was a sigh that sounded like relief. “So… crisis averted. You want to dance some more, Yuy?”
“No,” I said. Maybe Shades saw the word on my lips, too.
Maxwell laughed. “Another beer?”
I swivelled back around slowly. “It won’t make him any more attractive to me. I’ve no interest in your cast-offs.”
His cry was spontaneous. “That’s the last thing I’d wish on you, Yuy!”
I glanced at his face - he grimaced, though it passed just as quickly. He looked surprised by his own words.
“It’s meant to be fun. Getting hit on. It’s what it’s about.” Right? said his tone, though his eyes looked darker. “You’re not going to tell me it doesn’t happen to you a lot.”
“No,” I said. Let him draw his own conclusions.
He held my gaze now, assessing me. Confidence appeared to have been restored. “You want to go, then?”
I nodded. The hour was late and the music was gradually getting less frenetic. He stood, his tubular chair scraping on the linoleum. The floor was damp from the night’s spillages and many tables were cluttered with empty bottles. I stood, too, and for a moment we were face to face, inches apart.
Neither of us moved for a few seconds.
Then someone at the bar called over to him and he turned to wave at them - someone else yelled angrily, though I believe it had nothing to do with us. For a moment his body tensed, his attention distracted away from me. He stood with his back to me and I watched the spot halfway between his broad shoulder blades, seeing the long, narrow stain of sweat on his silk shirt. I imagined I could see the beads of it, trickling down his spine. I imagined the skin, smooth and taut over his torso.
When he turned back, there was pleasure and relaxation again on his face. I knew I was seeing him as he was when I wasn’t there – but tonight I was sharing it, at his invitation. “We’re cool,” he said, as if I’d understand what had – or might have – been going on with his peers. “You OK? You look pale.”
“Fine.” I said. “I’m fine.”
He peered at me. “I come here a lot, Yuy. It’s a place to chill. You sure you’re OK?” This was his life outside work, and he seemed both more and less relaxed here. I couldn’t begin to guess the reasons for such a conflict within him.
He shrugged at my silence. “Sorry. Seemed a good idea at the time."
“No, I’m good,” I said. He always winced when I used that phrase and I persisted with it, maybe for that very reason. But I didn’t want him to think his idea had been a mistake. That wasn’t the problem.
I wasn’t sure what was.
He nodded slowly, his eyes rolling up and down my body. Of course, I was used to his blatant scrutiny of other people. Openly curious; sometimes predatory.
It felt different tonight.
“Good,” he said. “I’m glad you came along.” A sudden wave of new music temporarily drowned out his voice. “Well, I guess I am,” he added, his mouth making the shape of the words. I watched his lips as they moved, and his eyes were on mine, following their direction.
“You’re welcome,” I mouthed back.
His smile returned. Maybe he would have said more, but then I turned and led the way out for both of us.
God knows what I’d expected, but it wasn’t what I was getting. My life appears disordered most of the time, and my behaviour often beyond outrageous - but I can still be surprised; even shocked. I’m a deceptive guy in many ways.
Deceptive – yeah, guess that’s him, too.
Basically, I felt underdressed. It wasn’t a common occurrence for me. I like bold colours; I like tactile fabrics. People notice that. Oh, and the braid kind of marks me out, of course. But I stood there, pinned against the back wall of the huge room, the place furnished only with multitudinous, heaving, sweating bodies, and I felt relatively shaven.
Not cute. Not at all.
He bumped back against me as another group of swarthy adventurers swept past. They jerked haphazardly to the beat of the music playing up on stage, mouthing along with what must have been a chorus. T heir clothes were drapes of midnight black, their hair was thick and wild and decidedly exotic. And much longer than mine. I swayed out of their way too, but my feet stuck like glue to the industrial-quality carpet. Must have been years of spilled beer in the fibres.
He grinned at me. “So… just how much are you hating this?”
Sounded familiar. I clenched my fist around my half-empty can and replied with what I considered to be my best insouciance. “It’s fine. I’m good. It’s just not a band I’m familiar with.”
“Maxwell …” He shook his head slightly, looking irritated. The furrow between his eyes was fascinating; made you want to reach forward and smooth it out with your fingers.
Stupid thought – but then I wasn’t thinking too clearly at the moment. Two more hours here and the heavy bass beat would probably drive me deaf and insane. Hopefully in that order.
But I stared out his frown. “Are you doing this for some kind of revenge?”
His frown deepened. “What? You think I brought you here because you took me to a place last month where I was forced to gyrate for an hour to music of a relentless techno beat, buy overpriced, warm beer, and be hit on by guys who thought it cool to wear shades inside a darkened nightclub?”
“Put like that …” I shrugged. I thought I could see a smile twitching at his lips. I felt like I was the subject for amusement.
“I can think of far better things to do if that’s what I wished to achieve.”
“I bet you could,” I murmured. I doubt he heard me over the current track playing. The band was made up of at least twelve people, all tall, dark and aggressively gothic. I had no idea why they thought three drum kits on one stage was necessary. The music was violent and passionate; the lyrics were in some language I thought had died out with the
“Nor is it true,” he said. I leaned from the wall to catch his words, at the same time as he turned to speak to me. We almost bumped noses.
“There’s no question of revenge. I come here often,” he said. He was smiling at me, damn him! “Maybe I should apologise for answering one of your introductory lines before you’d even asked it.”
“Not me,” I snapped back. “I’m far more inventive than that.”
He stared back. There was the reflection of a strobe light in his pupils. “Good,” he said. “I’m pleased to hear it.”
There was a scream from the stage. I didn’t know if the track had climaxed, or whether one of the guitarists had abused yet another string and castrated himself by accident.
Guess I was hoping for the latter.
He was still leaning in against me. I didn’t complain. It was also difficult to be possessive of personal space when you were surrounded by several hundred heavy metal Goths and a coven of beings that could only have been described as familiars.
“The music’s good – you can lose yourself in it. Don’t you find it enervating, Maxwell?”
I nodded. Thought it for the best. He smiled again like he didn’t believe me and then his hand stretched out to the wall beside my head, anchoring himself. I was staring straight at his head and left shoulder. His arm was bare, the short sleeves of his vest rolled up. I could see the muscles locked into place. Bare muscles. The edge of dark hairs showed at his armpit.
I’d been in this position before and yet I didn’t seem able to take it entirely in my stride.
“It’s thrilling.” His voice surfed the beat, absorbing it. “It’s something that takes over -”
“That takes you way out of the day job.”
He nodded, like he was pleased I understood. His knee brushed mine and I tensed. I could feel the heat of his breath against my cheek.
“Yuy, you must know this is –“
He raised an eyebrow.
“A surprise,” I finished. Wanted to say shock, but resisted. “You as some kind of heavy metal freak. For all I knew, you like country and western. You never play any music when we’re travelling. You don’t hum along tunefully when we’re trying to pass long, cold nights on surveillance. Hell, you don’t look the part…”
But even as I said it, I realised how wrong I was. OK, so he didn’t have the body piercings and the tattoos and the dreadlocks. He was dressed in black, but no long leathers, no bindings, no heavy silver jewellery; his look could pass in many another situation. He’d looked damned good at my local club, for example.
But he continued to lean in and gaze at me, and in his eyes I saw the same passion and fervour and excitement that was going on up on stage - just with a far higher degree of control.
And a very slight line of kohl around his eyes.
“Maxwell? You’re staring. I asked if you wanted to leave.”
I was back on that fascination with his eyes. The kohl added a depth to the ocean-shine blue of his gaze. It added a sense of danger; a hint of sensuality; an edge of pure beauty.
Whoa. Reality check required.
“Leave?” My voice sounded way off. “Hell, I was just getting into it.”
He snorted. “I think not. We’ll go. The set’s nearly done and I’ve no interest in the other bands on the bill.” I think that’s what he said. It was difficult to tell with the shrieking on stage and the roar of the crowds. When he turned away from me and started to push his way back out to the exit, I followed in his wake like some dragging thread of a tail. He paused just as we could see the doorway ahead.
“Thanks for coming along. I know it’s not your thing.”
Hey. It was one of those phrases again that sounded alien from his mouth. His mouth. Yeah. Was that liner on the lips, too? There was a fullness … a dark border to the hanging lower lip; a suggestive brush to the valley above his front teeth.
I’d have laughed at my ridiculous imaginings if I could have found my voice.
The crowd suddenly ebbed and flowed, and swung back around, parting us. Maybe there was trouble brewing, maybe it was just enthusiasm for an encore. For a second I saw him surrounded by his peer group; a striking, very fit young man, in amongst the dancers with their drinks held high - his eyes alight with their reflected hysteria, his body and limbs blended in to them, part of the critical mass of sensual, uninhibited response to the music.
Then he moved slightly and he was alone again, striding back towards me with a wry grin. A colleague; a familiar face returned. And yet all of those other things too. Tantalising.
I leant against the steel bar on the exit door. Felt kind of weak for a moment.
I nodded and he laughed in return, the momentary concern reassured. The richness of his laughter throbbed above and beyond the discordant clamour of all the other noise. “So push the door. It lets us out round the back of the building. We can walk from there.”
I pushed. We half fell out into the alley, away from the hubbub and the heat. I watched him shake the damp and smoke from his hair and brush down his pants. For a moment, he faced away from me, taking in a deep breath, straightening his body until he slipped back into the persona I saw during the working day.
I realised just how tantalising that glimpse of the other Heero Yuy had been.
He turned to frown at me and tilted his head to show me the way back to town.
I stuck my hands in my pockets and followed. Obviously, I’d welcome returning to the real world.