Monday, 1 August 2011

 Alcohol and the late hour had begun to dull the senses of both men. It was strange how they were both barely adults, but at this moment, in the shadow of mourning for their teacher, they looked so very old.

Percy was still hesitating, fidgeting and glancing from Oliver to the window every few seconds, as he had been for the last ten minutes. Finally, he pulled a cigarette out of the pack he’d been keeping in his pocket and asked, “Do you mind if I have a smoke, Ol?”

“Go ahead, I was going to have a couple myself. Ashtray’s on the end table.” Oliver replied, sitting up.

Having appropriated the ashtray to the coffee table, both men lit their cigarettes and then slowly exhaled. All of the tension seemed to leave the room, or at least lesson considerably. Percy had always liked to watch other people smoke, there was a sense of calm around it. It revealed a lot about a person without asking much.

Percy started chuckling softly, “It’s like we’re third years behind the Quidditch shed again, bloody hell…” he said.

“At least now we don’t have to worry about Snape or Filch…. or worse, McGonagall sneaking up to chastise us for having a smoke,” Oliver replied.

“Oh, you never know, one of our old teachers could decide to visit you and burst through the door at any moment to admonish us for smoking these frivolous things! Not as if they hurt Wizards at all anyway,” Percy continued, still chuckling.

“But Perc, we were not using our time on an activity that they approved of!” Oliver began to chuckle too.

“Oh of course,” Percy started to say, when there was a knock on the door, “Maybe I shouldn’t have doubted their ability to know that we were having a smoke.”

“Maybe not,” Oliver returned.

“I’ll get the door, then,” Percy said, rising.

“I’ll go with you, so we don’t confuse anyone,” Oliver replied, rising also.

Still carrying their cigarettes, they went to the door, just as the knock sounded again. Percy opened the door with Oliver behind him, only to reveal another old friend behind it.

“Oh, hullo, Lee, I almost forgot!” Oliver rushed to the closet across from the front door, retrieved a brown paper package and handed it over to Lee.

“Thanks, Wood. See you next Thursday?” Lee asked.

“Of course, Lee,” Oliver replied and closed the door, wandering back into his lounging room.

Percy followed him back and asked, “What was all that?” as he reclaimed his seat on the couch.

“A bunch of people from our year get together every other Thursday. Sort of a smaller version of the Order,” Oliver replied, “This will be the first time that I’m going,” he finished.

“Ah. Want company?” Percy asked, taking a drag from his second cigarette.

“I thought I had company right now, actually. But I wouldn’t mind if you tagged along, no,” Oliver teased.

There was a silence for a few more moments, while they enjoyed their drinks and smoked a little more.

“What were you about to tell me, a little while ago, Perc?” Oliver asked.

Percy tensed just a bit, and took a drag from his cigarette, “My roommate is sleeping, and he won’t appreciate me coming home foxed at four in the morning, which is where this is headed.” he answered.

“Oh… I get it. He’s about as much of a prick as you’ve been?” Oliver attempted a joke about it.

“I could take lessons,” Percy replied.

“Just relax, drink up, and don’t worry about it,” Oliver suggested.

For a while they talked over their memories of Hogwarts and Dumbledore, and what would happen next. Then it became worry over their families and a mention of Oliver’s younger brother and sister, Jordan and Sonja. Finally the two just decided to stop talking about the depressing things that were so stressful, and put on a record so they could drink and smoke themselves into a stupor.

“You listen to Muggle records, Ol?” Percy asked, a little surprised.

“I think that it shows better artistry than our music does. They put more work into it, you know? Any wizard can bewitch instruments to play along with them while they sing, but these artists actually put together a band, or play themselves.”

“I think you’re right,” Percy admitted.

They listened through REO Speedwagon’s Keep Pushin’ and then Building The Bridge in relative peace.

A few songs later they had both decided it was time to go for coffee and food.

Tucking their cigarettes into pockets, Oliver clamped a hand on Percy’s arm and Apparated to Olivia’s.

“What is this place, Wood?” Percy asked, after they sat down.

“The best little take-away place in our world. Any kind of coffee you can think of, along with endless amounts of different kinds of food. Chinese being my personal preference. Any objections to that?” Oliver asked.

“None at all, it sounds great.” Percy replied.

They ordered far too much food; fried dumplings, sweet and sour chicken with the sauce on the side, two separate types of rice, some kind of shrimp and pasta, black pepper potatoes, chicken eggrolls and regular eggrolls, shrimp on its own, scallops, three orders of homemade fortune cookies, egg noodles, and three large boxes each of French fries and tator tots. Then they made sure they had two white chocolate mochas apiece and took all the food back to Oliver’s place.

“I think we may have out-ordered ourselves, Ol,” said Percy

“Nah, we’ll just pretend that we’re still growing Hogwarts students. Dumbledore was always big on everyone eating as much as they could take,” Oliver grinned.

“I can’t remember the last time I got to smoke and drink while I ate, much less the last time I had time to eat this much,” Percy said, between doing all three.

“Oliver Wood: Professional Force-feeder,” said Oliver with a grin.

“Surely not as bad as that time that you charmed your door, your quill and your broomstick to say ‘I can only please one person each day. Today is not your turn. …Tomorrow is not looking good either.’ if you tapped it, whenever someone annoyed you. At least not yet,” Percy was finally teasing back.

“People ask too many questions. Specifically, the same questions. Repeatedly. I don’t like repeating myself, you know,” Oliver responded, but he was still grinning around his food.

“Sorry, what did you say, Ol? I couldn’t quite hear you,” Percy smirked.

“I’m going to choose to ignore you. Hey, did you know that people have been saying that they’ve been seeing you around London’s more… quiet restaurants without anyone? There’s talk that you’ve stopped seeing women,” Oliver looked at Percy quizzically.

Percy hesitated. Then he tried to casually say, “Oh? I hadn’t noticed. I have been having dinner and supper with my business contacts frequently, lately. I don’t suppose any of them are women.”

Oliver nodded, but privately he was thinking, ‘Well, that confirms my suspicions.’

Percy lit a cigarette and Oliver followed suit, neither saying a word for a while.

Halfway through his smoke, Percy asked, “Have you noticed that most of this evening has been a series of long awkward silences and hesitation?”

“Mmmhmm,” Oliver mumbled through the smoke he exhaled.

“You don’t mind? It doesn’t bother you?” Percy inquired.

Oliver shook his head, “I’ve always been content to let you take the lead.” he murmured.

They looked at each other for a moment, considering what that meant.

 The two men continued to look at each other silently, surrounded by the food that they were still consuming, the second and third empty bottles of Firewhiskey, the fourth that they had just opened, the various empty packs of cigarettes that they had gone through, coffee cups, wands, empty Chinese containers and the music that was still playing in the background.

Percy knew it was imperative that he keep his secret from his old friends, but especially this one. No one could possibly be more offended by his latest epiphany than Oliver. Perhaps he should just start writing letters to people that they never saw, again. That would be easier. He could live in secrecy and still feel as if he had told someone.

Oliver was musing in his own corner of the carpet in front of the fire, stretched out against the coffee table as he ate. He was thinking on what would make Percy so desperate to keep his secret, ‘I wonder why he won’t just tell me that he isn’t interested in women anymore? I was the only one who didn’t abandon or ignore him while he was being such a prat to his family, and I stuck by him at Hogwarts, when he went on his rampage… Could he still be afraid that I would disown him? Or is it something deeper than that, is he afraid of losing face at work, losing his job with the Ministry entirely? ’ but now matter what Oliver considered, he couldn’t find the reason that his friend would be so afraid to tell him the most important decision he had ever made.

Finally, Oliver gave up trying to understand it, and proceeded to go with the direct nudging approach, saying, “You know, back then… when we were still at school, I used to have a bit of a thing for you. I used to wonder what would happen, and if you knew what was going through my head when no one else was around us. It seems so silly now, when we’re in the most horrid conflict the Wizarding World has seen, but back then, I lived in a sort of terror that you would figure it out and tear me down.”

Percy snapped his head up and looked quite startled as Oliver finished his speech. He lit another cigarette and took a large gulp of his Firewhiskey, hoping that it looked a bit more subtle than it felt to him. He couldn’t say anything at all for some moments, and he felt a lump in his throat that must have been roughly the size of the entire city of London. When he finally felt he could speak without betraying what was racing through his mind he said, “As if I were ever the type who could tear you, or anyone at all, down. And anyway, Wood, don’t poke fun at me, that is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard in my entire life. You, having a thing for me. In school. Sure. Bloody liar. At least lie well if you’re going to lie to me!”

Oliver smirked to himself a little, “I was having a go at forcing you to tell me the secret that you’re guarding so closely to yourself, Perc. What’s this ‘Wood’ bit again? Honestly, it’s like we don’t even know each other, if one were to look at how you talk. Besides… who said I was telling a lie, Perc? Everything I said, I meant. I would not joke about that. Why would you ever think that I would?” he inquired.

Percy just stared at him. He couldn’t say anything, and he was getting angry. Finally, he spat out, “This isn’t funny anymore, Oliver. You are the only person laughing here. Fine, you figured out my secret. Yes, I like blokes for more than mates. I’m gay, alright? There. I admit it. Are you happy now? I didn’t want to tell you and you forced me to and I don’t know what I will do now if it gets out, damn you to the bloody depths of Hell. And now, if you do not mind ever so much, I’ll be taking some of the food and leaving. Thank you for the drinks and the company, such as it were. I’ll deal with my flatmate, he will just have to suffer,” Percy was gathering half of the remaining food into a bag, pocketing his latest pack of cigarettes, and gulping down his drink and walking towards the door as he spat his final words over his shoulder, “and I swear on everything that I hold dear, if you let this get back to the Minister, I will make sure that every dirty little secret you have somehow finds it’s way to the press. I’m sure the Prophet would love to get ahold of the news that a famous Quidditch player likes boys. They would have a field day. You would never get them away from your door!” he exclaimed, halfway to the door.

Oliver may have been faster on his broom, but he was still very quick on his feet, and he rushed up behind Percy, relocated the bag from his hand onto the breakfast table, spun him around just as he reached for the handle on the door, and pressed him up against it in one swift motion. Percy blinked rapidly and shook his head a bit, then stared at his friend. Oliver smirked at him, “Are you quite ready to listen to reason, now, Perc?” he asked.

Percy nodded mutely, but made no other move. He didn’t even indicate any inclination to run or avoid this little chat.

Oliver smiled in a way that somehow seemed dangerous and led his friend back to the lounging room. Percy sat with his back against the coffee table and waited for the worst that he knew was coming, the inevitable announcement that it had all been a joke, as he had thought. And he waited for the condemnation and the threats and the disownment he knew was coming.

Oliver said, “Now, will you sit here and listen to what I have to say, and try to see reason for just a few moments? I assure you, it won’t take long if you listen. Are you willing to lend me that much of your time?”

Percy nodded again, without a word.

Oliver took a deep breath and prepared to begin what he was sure was going to be a long, slow, painful explanation. Although he was doubtful that it would be more painful and hurtful than the discussion which would follow it.

 Oliver started with just a simple question, “Why would you believe that I would lie to you about something like that, Perc? When have I ever lied about something important?” he asked.

Percy just shook his head. He couldn’t form the words properly to establish what he had been fearing for six months previous to this meeting. At last he managed to force out, “I’ve had to keep it quiet. Anyone could tell the Ministry, and then I wouldn’t have a job or privacy or any of my friends. No one I’ve talked to has been accepting, and they had to be threatened in order to keep them quiet. I suppose I just assumed that you would be the same.”

Oliver closed his eyes and shook his head. Then he returned, “I can see that this is going to be very difficult to make you understand, much less believe.”

Percy shrugged, but had no response for that.

Oliver pointed back over his shoulder, asking, “You see that team photo on the mantle?”

Percy nodded.

“The man on the far left, second row. Ginger-ish hair, fairly tall, sort of smirking at the camera?” Oliver wanted to make sure that Percy understood.

His companion nodded again. Clearly, he was dealing with a mute.

“I guess it would have been about… oh… two months after I joined the team, we started to become lovers. It only lasted about a month after that, but it would appear that, specifically, I have a thing for redheads. Male redheads who have a bit of height to them,” he emphasised.

Percy gulped. “Please stop,” he intoned.

Oliver shook his head, “I’m not finished yet, Perc, calm down. Have a drink, light a cigarette, and relax. We may yet be here for a while,” he said, moving around to pour the other man a drink.

“Now, when I’m done, you can leave. You can run away screaming, never look back, never speak to me again if you do not want to. I’ll never breathe a word of it to anyone if that is the way you want it. You can turn your back on me, if that is what you truly wish to do, but for now you are going to listen to what I have to say. Is that clear, or do I need to use small, clear words so that you can comprehend through your… apparent shock?” Oliver taunted.

“As long as there’s an exit clause in this contract,” Percy replied snarkily.

Oliver grinned before continuing his speech, “Well, well. At least you are well enough to make jokes now. I rather thought that you might just pass out at any moment. You do have a very weak heart, for a wizard, Perc,” Oliver paused to make absolutely sure that this was taken as the light-hearted teasing that he meant for it to be, before he carried on, “Now, I did have a thing for you at Hogwarts. For all of our sixth and seventh years, and half of our fifth, to be exact. I spent a lot of time hiding it from you. As well as more time on the Quidditch pitch, practicing. than was actually necessary. I stayed awake with you at night for months on end, despite being exhausted…And then finally, I just forced myself to ignore it. Penny’s constant, never ceasing presence helped. But it never went away, Perc. And it’s not some horrible secret that is going to be the end of anyone’s career or the cause of their losing all their friends. If you want to see men, then see men. Don’t hide behind being too busy at work, and don’t use your work to ignore it, and don’t avoid your friends in order to block it out and hide it from them. It isn’t fair to the people who know you to not really know you, and it isn’t fair to do it to yourself either. Trust me, I learned it the hard way. It’s not like you make some kind of announcement, you just go about your life with whomever you want the same way you would had nothing changed.”

Oliver stopped talking for a moment because he realised that he was becoming far too involved in this, and far too passionate about the subject. He took a breath, and then, “All I’m saying is that you are making your life far more difficult than any of it needs to be. Your internal conflict is hurting my external observations. It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion, Perc. Don’t do it to any of your friends and don’t do it to yourself. It’s not fair to anyone involved,” he finished.

Oliver threw himself into the corner of his couch, lit a cigarette, and did not say another word.

Percy very slowly came out of his shocked stupor and got up. He turned to Oliver and said, “Goodbye, Wood.” Then he gathered his things again, and this time actually made it out of Oliver’s front door.

He found himself wandering around the streets outside Oliver’s flat, having shrunk all of his things into a size that now fit into the pocket of his trousers, as he was only now realising that he had left his cloak on the heater inside. But damned if he were going back in that place anytime soon.

Percy lit a cigarette and wandered over to the pub down the street. He didn’t bother to order a drink, clearly he was already more foxed than was really advisable. He merely sat at the bar and smoked.

Oliver stood in the doorway from his lounge into his kitchen and stared at his front door. He was going to regret that speech, he was realising now. He knew that he had just lost a friend for a long time. As he turned to go back into his lounge and drink himself into a stupor, as had been the original plan, he saw Percy’s deep crimson cloak still sitting on the heater where it had been left. His friend had been so upset that he had left without it and would probably be too angry to come back to retrieve it. He sat on his couch, shot his whiskey all at once, and put his head in his hands.

 The fifth part (and still not done, though it was supposed to be.)

Percy had smoked through an entire pack of cigarettes and started on another before he stopped being furious. He was still angry, but at least now he was not taking it out on the bar anymore. The bartender was very pleased about that, at least.

Everything was good! …Okay everything wasn’t good. At all. But it was reasonably in order, and fairly calm. I was resigned to leaving my inclinations alone for now, and the secret was safe. I’d nearly forgotten about even making an attempt at having a normal relationship. Why the bloody hell did Oliver have to come along and ruin it all? As if it could ever be possible for things to be open. And the night was going along fine. We were drinking, we were smoking, we were eating, we were talking and grieving for our mentor, and it was all perfectly fine, before he forced it out of me. And then of course there’s all that rubbish about how he felt in school, and having a thing for male redheads “with a bit of height to them”. He had to emphasise that, and show how badly things are beginning to go for me. Why couldn’t he just leave it alone?’ Percy was ranting to himself as he chain-smoked.

He had forgotten that he was in a Muggle bar. A Muggle bar in which someone was obviously having a horrible night, because they had put a seemingly endless amount of quarters into the jukebox for one song: Savage Garden’s Gunning Down Romance. ‘It really isn’t a bad song, actually. …In fact, it’s rather good, if you happen to be in a very angry, depressive mood. …On second thought, this song might be perfect for me,’ Percy thought sourly.

Apparently, though, the person who had started up the jukebox hadn’t put all the quarters on that song, but merely very much enjoyed Savage Garden in general. Percy lapsed back into his internal monologue without wasting any time identifying this new song, ‘Why is it so important that I see things the way he so clearly sees them? He’s such an infuriating prat, no wonder I haven’t made time to go see him the last few times he’s been in town.’ But a nagging little voice told him that he knew very well that that was by no means the reason that he had not gone to see Oliver Wood when he came home in-between Quidditch matches elsewhere. He hadn’t gone because he knew that it would be all too easy for his oldest friend to figure out what was troubling him. Oliver knew him too well, and his deepest, most guarded secrets were like child’s play for Oliver to figure out and extract from him without any effort beyond the lifting of a finger.

Percy was now chiding the inner voice that served as what was left of his conscience. ‘I don’t see why that’s relevant. That’s only more reason not to see him. He knows too much, and he sees right through me. It’s like trying to teach a pig to sing. It only wastes my time, annoys the pig, and provides absolutely no useful result.’ But his conscience wasn’t giving up that easily, ‘You’re sitting in a bar. Smoking as if your cigarettes were suddenly going to completely disappear if you don’t. Ranting and raving about the fact that your best friend, and indeed, the only friend that will still speak to you, had the nerve to try and get you to see the light of reason on what you are hiding from everyone and denying yourself of. And you are about to burn yourself.’

Percy quickly lit the cigarette in his mouth, before the flame on his lighter managed to burn him. ‘I don’t see the point of trying to live the way that I want to. It will only ruin what is left of my life. Not that there is that much left of it to speak of in the first place, but really. Who is counting?’

The fact that he was quite literally having a conversation with himself had not escaped him, but either way, he didn’t much care. His conscience piped up again, ‘Fine, your life is a wreck, your family is a disaster, your friends won’t speak to you, and the only thing that you did all of this for is your job, which you don’t even like all that much any longer. Yet, the one friend who is still speaking to you invites you over and ends up trying to make you see sense, and you attempt to alienate him, as well. Are you trying to become a priest, or is self denial just fun for you? Because you’re acting like a first class prick.’ It was kind of sad that his own mind was ripping Percy to shreds at this point, but it wasn’t really much different from his whole life anymore, so that was to be expected. There was only one thing left to say, really. ‘But what do I know? I’m just a little voice in your head. But at least I’ve not managed to get into an argument with myself in the middle of a bar and then lose.’

Sadly, his conscience was right. He had just managed to get into a fight with himself and lose. Percy kept smoking his cigarette, thinking about how the whole night had gone up to this point.

Actually, it had been going rather nicely. The drinks and the cigarettes and the talking were exactly what he had needed in order to feel like a person again, instead of just an invisible helper deemed only mildly better than a house-elf. The food had been great too. He still had his share, of course, but eating in a bar didn’t appeal to him at all. Oliver’s flat had been the ideal environment for his one evening away from work and dull existence.

Perhaps his friend was truly trying to help him after all, rather than push him into doing things that would ruin his life further. And then there was that bit Oliver had said midway into the night…”I’ve always been content to let you take the lead,” he’d said. What did that even mean?

He thought back to the collapse of limbs on the floor, while trying to get to the Firewhiskey, and the easy conversation that had gone on up until Oliver’s speech. Then the cloak that he had left there. It was the only one he had at the moment. Perhaps he would go and retrieve it, and find out what Oliver had meant by that while he was there.

That seemed like a very good idea, which is how Percy ended up all the way back at the door to Oliver’s flat at midnight that night, and knocked.

When John saw the interview a few hours later, he was burying his face in his hands, but he was also laughing. He’d had the best of intentions, he had managed to sneak out of bed before Dave was even awake that morning. He was showered and dressed in less than fifteen minutes. He was halfway through a plate of eggs and toast, reading the paper, an hour before the interview, when the arms slid around his waist from behind, and there were lips pressed into the back of his neck.

John managed to laugh out a good morning before his mouth was commandeered for other purposes, but that was almost all. After that, the arms around his waist tightened and the lips became teeth trailing a line across his collarbone and back around his neck. Dave had him tipping his neck for more instead of attempting speech. There was a nip at the lobe of his ear and that was all he managed to remember coherently before the bedroom.

He made it out the door ten minutes before he was supposed to be recording the segment, and barely managed to be there before they started to harass the keepers of his schedule.

In the clip, his shirt is slightly wrinkled, you can see traces of where Dave’s teeth had been only an hour before, his hair is all but a lost cause, and there is still a faint flush in his cheeks, but it was worth it.

The fingers tugging at his hair, lips and teeth making a trail up and down his neck to his back, the last few moments before he has to rush out the door. Those are worth it.

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September 2011

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