Posner bats away Scripps' hands. "I can do this," he says, the tip of his tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth as he stares intently at the fence looming in front of them. Rudge, Dakin, and Akthar have already scaled it, and Timms has, pragmatically, gone to look for another way around. Posner isn't even sure where they're sneaking into, or why; Dakin had ambushed them in the hallway after lessons, telling them that "There was this thing," and off they went through back-alleys, still in their school uniforms.
"You don't have to prove anything," Scripps says quietly, pretty sure that Posner thinks he does. Everyone on the other side of the fence had taken a run at it and scaled it nimbly, no problem. Posner absent-mindedly swats at Scripps again, although no hand has been offered this time.
He runs, bounds; the chain-link rattles loudly as he scrabbles for the top; with a thud, he is over.
He beams a little, his eyes still on Dakin. Behind him, Scripps chuckles to himself.
They go out for drinks one night, midway through their first term. Scripps isn't sure Posner is even going to show up, as an informal survey of the rest of the Cutler boys says none of them have heard from him in months.
"I've been busy," Posner says defensively. "Studying. School."
Scripps nods; he understands. "How've you been? Besides busy," he asks, looking around.
"Were we actually friends? In school, I mean? Or were we just a bunch of boys who had class together?" This is not an answer to Scripps' question at all.
Scripps looks back across the table. Posner looks angry and thoughtful at the same time.
"I'd say we were friends," he concedes after studying the other boy for several long moments. "D'you think we were best mates or something?"
Posner puts his head down on the table, looking utterly dejected. "Nobody here gets me."
"You poor, delicate flower--"
"Shut up." A shove from across the table nearly spills Scripps' drink. "Where we come from is somewhere you can't just explain to people."
Scripps allows himself a grin. "Sheffield?"
"I said shut up! I mean Cutler's. Mr. Hector. Mr. Irwin. Dakin."
Scripps raises an eyebrow. "You tried to explain Dakin?"
"No one here looks out for me like you used to," Posner continues, suddenly quiet, suddenly fascinated by the pint of Newcastle on the table in front of him.
These are the things Scripps doesn't say: You shouldn't expect them to. I don't think the real world works like that. It's almost like I cared.
Scripps scales the fence artfully and lands on his feet with barely a sound. Dakin offers him an appreciative smirk, but no one seems impressed.
The "thing" Dakin thought it imperative they all get to turns out to be a sort of divey strip club where ladies dance on tables. One of them, it seems, knows some sort of obscene trick that Dakin won't divulge, although he isn't entirely sure which one. And so they end up, all eight of them, crammed into a large corner booth, staring up at a woman with no brassiere on.
Posner looks a little terrified, and to be frank, Scripps isn't entirely comfortable either. Honestly, Dakin, sometimes--
Posner shifts in his seat; he is obviously going to head away--to the bar, to the restroom, to the alley outside, somewhere that is decidedly not here. And Scripps slings a calculatedly casual arm around his shoulder. Posner's eyes flicker to him, then back to Dakin, but Scripps can't help but notice the way the younger boy's shoulders untense under his almost protective embrace.
This is what Scripps does say: "Thankless job it was, too," smiling in a way he hopes conveys that he's mostly kidding.
Posner's mouth twitches sideways, his eyes big and innocent like Scripps remembers, and something inside Scripps twists up.
They've drank far more than they should, that much is certain, when they finally leave the pub. Scripps slings his bag around his shoulder and stumbles a bit closer to Posner.
"I thought I was supposed to be happy here. Fulfilled. We worked so hard to get here, and now what?" Posner's voice is loud along the dark street. "More work. More studying. No reward."
Maybe Posner stumbles this time, because the next thing either of them knows, they are pushed up against the wall, their noses touching. And then despite neither of them consciously moving, they're kissing each other hard and fast, with needy mouths and fingers.
Scripps pulls back, a little shocked even, and says before he thinks about it: "I'm not Dakin," wanting to make sure Posner is aware of what he's doing and probably why. Posner's eyes flicker momentarily (and Scripps inwardly kicks himself--he can't think of a more hurtful thing he could have said right now) and Posner's voice is a little unsure as he replies, "You don't have to be. Nobody said you had to be," and he pulls Scripps close again.
When Posner wakes up the next morning, Scripps is gone. Fuck fuck fuck, Posner thinks to himself, curling up even smaller in the bed. The panic lessens a bit when he realizes that the bed belongs to Scripps; unless he has completely abandoned all his possessions, he will have to return eventually. He stares at the ceiling and wonders if he's expected to leave before Scripps gets back.
There is a tentative knock at the door. "Are you decent?" Scripps cracks the door open but doesn't look in until Posner responds. When he does, he sees Posner standing by the bed in last night's clothes, looking embarrassed.
Somehow, Posner knows Scripps has been to church.
"I'm sorry," Posner says quickly. His voice is quiet; he has found that apologizing, even if he's not sure what for, is usually a safe move.
Scripps is looking somewhere just beyond him. Posner can tell that things are going round in the other boy's head, and it makes him nervous that neither of them is saying anything.
"I...should go." Posner snatches his coat off the bedpost and darts towards the doorway. Still, too quickly, Scripps steps between him and the door, blocking the way out.
"Are you really sorry?" he asks Posner, looking closely at him. It doesn't immediately register for Posner that Scripps means "regretful" instead of "apologetic." When it does, he finds himself looking at Scripps in wonderment.
His expression is unguarded. Posner thinks briefly of Dakin. Dakin had been many things, but completely, selflessly open had never been one of them. And while you'd think that those many wonderful things would make Dakin infinitely preferable to any alternative--and Posner had thought this very thing for some time now--there is something in Scripps' caring, honest look that makes him brave enough to ask: "Are you?"
They leave the club together, ahead of the other boys. "That was vile," Posner manages after they've been walking for a minute or two. "What does he see in that sort of thing?"
"Tits, I think." Scripps grins. "And no, it wasn't a particularly edifying experience."
"Scripps," Posner declares suddenly, "I shall never understand Dakin."
Scripps snorts. "What a difficult life you lead."
Posner makes a face.
They've reached the fence again. "Let's...let's go around," Posner mumbles, but Scripps shakes his head. Instead, he stoops and forms a step with his hands, offering the younger boy a boost over. Posner looks around self-consciously, then accepts.
"Do you think we'll ever be happy?" Posner asks, unexpectedly, looking intently at Scripps from the other side of the fence as Scripps moves back for a running start.
Scripps pauses. How do you answer a question like that? Especially coming from someone as determinedly unhappy as Posner. He sets his jaw, vaults the fence, and waits a moment before answering, dusting himself off. "I think we're as happy as we allow ourselves to be."
Posner groans again. "That's not an answer, that's poetry."
"Nothing precludes its being both," Scripps replies, and the seriousness of the moment dissipates easily. Neither one of them will mention this exchange again, but both of them will think of it, separately, on the same morning about a year from now.