Chapter one: The meddling
1. Eric Chapman
It has been a rough couple of days both for Rudyard and Eric. It wasn’t anything specific that triggered their mutual hostility, but taking their characters under consideration it was a miracle that the big explosion of cumulated feelings didn’t happen earlier.
Nevertheless, there they were. At each other’s throats for some petty thing that was swiftly forgotten a long time ago. The only one shouting was Rudyard, as always; Eric merely listened, although his body language said more about his internal thoughts than he would have expected. Was it important, the thing that triggered them in the first place? Neither of them remembered.
“Go to hell, Chapman! It’s all YOUR fault, that’s certain!”
At the words Eric finally snapped. “How is that MY fault by any means, Rudyard? Don’t you think a little bit of self-reflection would be advisable at this point?” His words were bitter, it was clear that he was furious, even if he knew better than letting his anger overtake him. “How typical of you.”
“Self-ref- God damn it, Chapman!”
“Because you just never THINK before you speak! Why do you think nobody was keen on doing business with you in the first place?!”
“I-“ Funn looked lost for a moment but quickly regained his composure. “That is clearly YOUR fault, Chapman!”
“How is that- You know what? Fine.”
Chapman pinched the bridge of his nose in an universal sign of irritation and stayed silent for a minute to let his nerves calm. Rudyard brought everything bad in his character, it seemed clear now.
“I need fresh air” the businessman hissed under his breath and then he was gone from Rudyard’s sight.
The silence was almost overwhelming, even for an insensitive person that Rudyard Funn certainly was. Despite being the man he was, Rudyard knew deep inside of him that he was wrong. Under normal circumstances he wouldn’t be even conscious of that fact, but being friends with Eric Chapman did that to you in the end.
“What have I done?”
The next day greeted Eric with an intoxicating mix of regret, anger and self-loathing. Not for the first time since he began to form a relationship with Rudyard Funn, but also not the first time in his adult life. It was bad, before all of that.
Chapman wondered about his past while he prepared to get out of bed. He intuitively knew that he still had about two hours before his alarm would rang. He was also aware, however, that based on his previous experiences, he would not be able to come back to sleep anymore.
With a sigh on his lips Eric pulled his torso up and finally looked at the clock placed on his bedside cabinet, right next to the pocket watch belonging to his grand-grand-grand… father.
Three forty. Not that bad.
“Right. What should I-“
A bang on the door was a rather unexpected turn of events. And considering the time – Eric glanced at the clock one more time, just to be sure, still not nearly four o’clock – it could only be one person. Well, theoretically one could find more, or even say that a funeral home should be open at all times, but- let’s settle on one person, shall we?
Pulling off the covers was not a pleasant task, even if it was necessary. After doing that Chapman realised he was suddenly really cold all other and remembered that he drunkenly took off all of his clothes. Drunkenly? It would seem so, although there was no headache forming in his temple and there were no bottles lying around. How else to explain the hazy state Eric was in when he came back home from Funn’s house? This sudden burst of emotions, not being able to stand or think straight…
But first, he should deal with the banging that didn't cease even for a moment. Now, THAT was going to give him a headache later, for sure.
In a blink of an eye Eric put some clothes on, not paying attention to how they looked or, well, smelled and suddenly his hand was on the door-knob, anxious.
Should he open the door? No, of course he should do that, stupid question. Does he want to open this door? Face whoever was there on the other side?
He has made the decision.
“Rudyard” he greeted his guest with cold politeness so alien to him at this point.
Miraculously, it worked and the other man looked a bit stirred by the withdrawn stare his host gave him. They both glared at each other for a while, thinking through their plans of action. At least Rudyard seemed to do that, because Eric had no bloody clue what he was going to do. He still felt anger towards his… friend? Ex-friend? Doesn’t matter. He was yet to forgive Rudyard Funn’s hurtful accusations but at the same time he was ready to hear whatever the small man, who was currently avoiding his eyes, had to say about his behaviour.
Finally, they looked each other in the eyes and allowed their lips to curl slightly upwards. Funn broke the eye contact, licking his lips and biting them almost to the point of bleeding. Eric took a deep breath. He already made his decision when he opened this door a few minutes ago. He moved away a hair, just enough to make a tight passage.
“Come in, Rudyard.”
“Maybe I will, Chapman” Eric’s guest moved forward, almost cocky in manner. He didn’t fool anybody, though. Dark circles under his eyes spoke louder to anyone who looked carefully, which Eric certainly was doing.
That was enough to Eric. Even if Rudyard didn’t come to his house to apologise, the mere fact that Chapman has made him lose his precious sleep was sufficient. The implications of that thought were to be left for later, though.
Eric led his guest to the kitchen, both to make him more uncomfortable as he was sure Rudyard still remembered yesterday’s events and for purely practical reason. It was nearly four o’clock at this point and Chapman did not plan to have this conversation half-asleep.
“Coffee?” Eric asked, turning his back to his guest in order to retrieve his favourite cup from the cupboard above the sink.
It was hard to held a smile when the look of surprise transformed into irritation and then sudden realisation in a matter of seconds.
When they were seated, both of them remained silent, waiting for the hot liquid to chill. Rudyard was the first one to speak.
“A- Antigone persuaded me to come here, to you.”
“She wanted you to come here at four o’clock, wake me up from my beauty sleep and entertain me with silence for twenty minutes?” Eric had a hard time believing it would ever be the case. Antigone, despite being raised in the basement, had more self-perseverance than her twin. Still, it was amusing to look at his friend’s face when he was trying to come up with the right answer.
“She- Well, not exactly, but-“
“Don’t worry, I know what you mean. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear it from you, personally.”
Rudyard Funn took a deep breath. Then another. In the meantime Eric reached for his cup and tasted the coffee. Too hot, still-
“She said I am to make out with you and after I thought the matter through, I decided to come right away.”
Burning liquid spilled all over the table, staining the white tablecloth with brownish spots.
“I’m sorry, she what?”
Rudyard rolled his eyes, carefully ignoring the stains his host left before him. “She said I hurt you and-“ he renewed the eye contact “And I agree. I shouldn’t have- Shouldn’t have accused you of anything, as it was clearly not your fault.” It was visible that he struggles with this statement, like it was the first time he opened himself to someone. “I was- I am too hasty at times. And for that, Cha- Eric. For that I am sorry.”
During his speech, Rudyard maintained the eye contact, despite the visible struggle. Now he let his eyelids shut and tense shoulders relax a hair.
None of them said anything after that.
Eric got up from his chair, walked up to his friend and placed a warm hand on his skinny arm. He let his fingers play with a cloth of Funn’s yesterday’s shirt while he spoke.
“Rudyard, I am- I am still angry with you.” That brought even more tension into Rudyard’s shoulders. “I do, however, understand where you are coming from and, frankly, I am willing to forgive you.”
Eric moved a finger over his friend’s lips, not quite touching them.
“Let me finish.” He let his hand drop. “If you need my help dealing with things, I will help you. But you have to talk to me, not just snap at me like you did yesterday, okay?”
Rudyard slowly looked up to meet Eric’s gaze and nodded shyly.
“Thank you.” His smile was genuine, even if he needed to work on not looking like a psychopath when he did that. The atmosphere cleared, though and Eric was content he no longer felt an unpleasant twist in his stomach. He poured himself and Rudyard another cup of coffee sat on the chair next to his friend with a usual friendly smile.
“Now, what EXACTLY did Antigone told you to do?”
2. Agatha Doyle
The bakery smelled of freshly made pastries and cocoa. It wasn’t unpleasant per se, but Rudyard would not pick this scent as his favourite, either. Why has he found his way up here, buying Antigone’s chocolates, he wondered, if it wasn’t for his own pleasure?
“Here you are, Mr Funn” said Agatha Doyle, sliding the box of homemade chocolates his way. She didn’t ask why he chose those alongside his usual ones, and he didn’t feel the need to spill the beans.
“Thank you, Agatha” He was just turning to the exit, but then remembered his talk with Eric a few days prior and added without his usual grumpy tone. “Enjoy yourself.”
Agatha gasped under her breath and looked up at him in a swift motion. Her mouth agape, she grabbed Rudyard’s free hand by the wrist and forced him to lean on the counter.
“Suspicious…” she murmured at last, grip still strong enough to bruise the delicate skin under her client’s shirt.
“What do you find ‘suspicious’, Agatha?”
She didn’t answer. Instead, she began to examine his face closely. When she didn’t find what she was looking for, she glanced at the pastries laying safely in the bag. “So. You and Eric?”
"What about us?" Rudyard quirked an eyebrow and only partially stopped himself from rolling his eyes in irritation.
"Are you friends?"
That was a stupid question and Agatha knew it all too well. Funn sighed and tried to free his hand, but the woman was bloody strong. Looked like there was no way around it.
"Yes, Agatha. We are 'friends'. Now, can I go?" He put emphasis on the word 'friends' in hopes of getting away with sarcasm. However Agatha didn't seem to quite understand the meaning behind his words because she blushed heavily and huffed with anger. Didn't let go of his hand, though.
"And have you always been... friends?"
"Yes- Well, actually, no. At first we were... something else. Now it's all different, though." Rudyard's hand began to itch where Agatha got her hold of him.
"You were something else, you say? But now it's different?"
"Yes, Agatha, our relationship is a lot better, if I were to speak truthfully. Can I go, now?" Having found his patience only recently, Rudyard Funn didn't quite know how to manage it. But taking the history of his previous outbursts under account, this one was the size of a new born kid's shoe. At least he didn't throw a tantrum in the middle of the street. "I have some really important- meeting and I wouldn't want to be late. Let me go, Agatha!"
Finally, she freed his hand. But not before she had the last word.
"One may claim your behaviour to be suspicious, Rudyard."
He should have bit his lip and go away. But Rudyard is Rudyard, even if his smile was a bit less horrible.
"Bloody hell, Agatha, there is nothing suspicious about the two of us!" He raised his voice, the bag with pastries laying forgotten on the floor. "What's your deal!"
"Dear God, Rudyard, you don't have to be so unpleasant. I'm just trying to get to the bottom of this."
"The bottom of what, exactly?" Rudyard was breathing unevenly; his voice rising with every syllable. Through his haze he understood two things, however. His rage was justified, for once. He knew for a fact that Agatha had no right to keep him in the shop. Still, he didn't back down from the confrontation.
"Good day, Agatha!"
Eric Chapman. Rudyard was for once grateful for his ability to appear whenever he was a topic of someone's conversation. Funn picked up his sweets and turned to his neighbour, who was eyeing him cautiously.
"Is something wrong?" A worry in his voice sounded sincere. Like he deeply cared for Rudyard's well-being. Then he noticed the bag and his eyes lit up. "I see you got the treats! Wonderful! I was just about to get us some for the dinner. Well, then. Enjoy yourself, Agatha!"
Eric touched Rudyard's back briefly, before turning away from Agatha and heading out to the street with him. There was certain intimacy in the gesture and the retired detective felt like she was interrupting something bigger. She observed as Rudyard - it almost looked like he - leaned to the touch, which no one has ever seen him do. Must've been her mind playing tricks on her. After all, her eyes are not what they were twenty years ago.
The pair made their way down the street, silent but exchanging knowing looks. Eric's full of joy, while Rudyard's were a mix of irritation, gratitude and... confusion?
"Very suspicious" Agatha murmured to herself and reached for the 'open/closed' sign. She was going to visit some friends.
3. Georgie Crusoe
Rudyard was humming. But not only that. The was HUMMING and SMILING. Both of those things alone were so bizarre that Georgie had a difficult time understanding WHY they happened to occur at the same time so early in the morning.
She cleared her throat.
"Hey, Mr Funn?" she began while chopping onions for the late breakfast. They usually prepared it together, since Rudyard was a terrible cook and Antigone often stayed late working on her latest invention.
"Yes, Georgie?" He really seemed less agitated than usual. Normally he would snap at her immediately, but now there were no signs of even the slightest irritation. Weird.
"If you don't mind me asking-" Georgie placed all of her ingredients on the plate and began to make coffee in the pot. "You look... relaxed. Did you sleep well?"
Rudyard grinned under his nose and quickly turned, so that his expression wasn't visible for his employee.
"Oh, quite the contrary, I'm afraid." He picked up three cups and placed them on the table. The only thing left now was the coffee pot. "I stayed late at Chapman's, so we didn't get much sleep last night."
Georgie thanked God Rudyard wasn't facing her, as for the moment everything on her face stopped to portray the pure horror she was feeling. She soon composed herself again and hid her expression under her usual disinterest. Only after briefly glancing at Mr Funn did she realise that something was wrong. Rudyard Funn was staring at her with concern in his eyes. For God's sake, Rudyard Funn was worried about her! Why?
"Yes, Mr Funn?"
"You dropped the knife."
Oh. That was most certainly true. She must've pushed it off the table while setting the pot in the correct position. She didn't hear the sound of it hitting the ground, though...
"It hasn't done you any harm, you know." Mr Funn reached for the utensil and washed it quickly in the ancient sink. "No reason to treat it with such hostility."
Was it a joke? From Mr Funn? She HAD to know.
"Sorry." Both of them sat in their usual chairs and waited for the Antigone to come up for breakfast. It was quiet, though, so Georgie figured it would be some time before her friend arrives. "Anyway, what did you do with Eric? Must have been something important, for you to lose sleep because of it."
"You know. The usual."
God, his voice sounded so... relaxed. But with Rudyard Funn nothing was relaxed. EVER. His mere being was a contradiction of the word. Somehow, though, he managed to look like he just won a lottery despite obvious bags under his eyes. Which is why his presence raised even more questions than his awfully vague answer.
Unfortunately, there was another thing Georgie got wrong that day. Antigone Funn was up already.
"Some of us were trying to sleep, you know?" She greeted them, although no hostility was visible on her face. It was a playful bickering that Georgie was slowly getting used to as something characteristic to Antigone Funn now.
"Sorry, Antigone." She apologised, sending a big smile across the room. Georgie will investigate this 'Chapman case'. Later.
4. Antigone Funn
Antigone Funn knew something was odd when she first entered the kitchen, but since she was aware of her own limitations, she didn't attempt to resolve it. Now, though, it was becoming unbearable. Georgie was tense and Rudyard was... not her usual grumpy brother. At. All.
Earlier, Georgie briefed her in a hushed voice about what she found out during breakfast preparations, so that it was Antigone who acted on it. Whatever it actually was.
Antigone sighed and finally addressed the elephant in the room.
"You get on well with Eric?"
Rudyard looked puzzled for a moment, like he never before thought through the matter. It took him only a few seconds to pull himself together, which was odd. But the 'odd' began to become the new 'normal' with her brother, Antigone thought.
"Well, you could say that." He still looked puzzled, but there was no indication he was opposed to the idea of being close to Chapman anymore. "We are certainly closer since you told me to make out with him." A slight pause. "I mean, make up with him."
Antigone stayed silent, although she marked the slip up in her mind for further consideration.
"I'm not happy about it, if anyone is interested." Commented Georgie, putting her knife down. She has finished her meal earlier, but toyed with the cutlery, thinking. Her face was blank, but her body language was tense. "I still think he can be a bad influence on Mr Funn."
"Georgie, don't be so harsh. He helped us, on some occasions." Antigone Funn mimicked her friend and put away her plate. "Besides, he is our business partner now. Forming bonds with partners is important if you want a relationship to flourish."
"Yes, but it's not like Eric needs some convincing form Rudyard. They hate each other."
"Hated, past tense. And not true." Rudyard finally spoke up, his gaze determined. "Eric is a fine man."
Georgie and Antigone looked at each other, brows raised. It was peculiar for Rudyard to behave like this.
"So you DO like him after all" his sister teased purposefully.
"Of course I do." Rudyard snorted and rolled his eyes, finally looking a bit more like his normal self. Although it only took him a few seconds to regain his composure. "I wouldn't spend time with him over wise."
His words were serious, but his expression was full of emotion feeling unfamiliar on his face. He, too, pushed away his plate and stood up, taking the dishes away.
It took his interlocutors by surprise. Rudyard Funn openly showing, well, affection for someone? Eric Chapman, nevertheless? True, he previously expressed his feelings towards the other man, but they were mostly negative. Odd, odd, odd. Helping with housework? Either more peculiar.
"Besides, Antigone. As you said, it's better to stay friends with him. Now excuse me, ladies. I have a meeting to attend to."
"Yes, a meeting, Georgie. Did I stutter?" Now, there was the grumpy Rudyard everyone hated. "An important one."
"Who's the lucky guy, then?" Georgie had this smug look on her face, like she has already worked out a complicated puzzled. A look that made her look a bit like a cat.
"I'm to meet with E-" he stopped himself before he could reveal too much. "You know, what? Never mind. Enjoy yourselves."
Funn didn't even spare them a glance when he walked out the door. Soon, they expected to hear the door close, as Rudyard was a rather loud person. They did not catch even a slightest sound from them. They did, however, hear a familiar voice greeting Funn outside.
"Make out, Antigone? Tell me you didn't say that to him."
"I'm pretty sure I didn't." Miss Funn sighed and looked at her friend. "I just hope he won't do anything stupid. Oh, don’t give me that look, Georgie."
"You know he will do something dumb. He's Rudyard, for God's sake!"
"I know, Georgie. I know."
Both ladies glanced at the pile of freshly washed dishes. They were not perfectly clean, some of them still had chunks of food on the surface. But they were not as dirty as people would expect form Rudyard Funn.
"I will be in the basement, if you need me."
"I'll wash the dishes, then."
"Thank you, Georgie."
"Don't mention it, Antigone."
5. Piffling Vale
It was an exciting couple of weeks for Piffling Vale. Partially because it was almost time for the annual Piffling Festival. And partially because the host of the event has been announced to be no other than Eric Chapman. Everyone knew that if Eric was involved, the ceremony would be unforgettable.
Everything went smoothly, not even Rudyard Funn tried to disrupt the preparations. It was suspicious for some, although most of Piffling residents simply treasured the fact that there was nothing to fear for now. After all, even Funn wouldn't be as rude as to bother anyone during the festival.
The time has come and everyone gathered in the previously agreed place – Chapman's boat. It was time for Eric to open the ceremony.
And there he was, handsome as ever, with his light tan, blond hair everyone envied him and his eyes that made everyone shiver with anticipation. With the dark purple suit and black shirt, he looked surprisingly appropriate for the occasion. He confidently crossed the stage and gripped the microphone tightly. He was a hair paler then normally, which was understandable. Everyone would be nervous if they were to speak before a large group of people. Not many thought deeply about this strange behaviour, but ones who did, couldn't shake the feeling something was about to happen and Rudyard Funn was somehow involved.
"Welcome, citizens of Piffling Vale, to the annual Piffling festival!" He began cheerfully, making eye contact with everyone. "I will be your host today and I hope we will have a wonderful day together!"
Everyone nodded with agreement. Every year the event looked similar, but this year it's Eric who took care of things, so good time was guaranteed. They relaxed a bit more and their smiles returned to the right places.
"This year I prepared a lot of fun activities! From scuba diving to water boarding and even an opportunity to fly a balloon. Everyone will find something they like."
Eric licked his lips and took a deep breath.
"But before we do all of that... I want you to greet my co-host. Please, welcome my dearest friend, Rudyard Funn!"
There was no applause, as everyone was rather dumbfounded with the revelation. And there he was, walking onto the stage. He looked different, though, much more pleasant to the eye. One would not say 'handsome', 'interesting' was more like it. His long, greasy hair has been neatly combed by a skilful hand; cleverly applied make up hid bags under his eyes. The clothing did its job, too, of course. The navy-blue suit combined with black shirt and lavender tie didn't present half bad on him. It made his skin less pale and eyes pop. Whoever picked up his clothes deserved a praise. It wasn't just the clothing, though. Rudyard's posture wasn't that bad anymore and his eyes were steadily placed in one place – Eric's face. They smiled at each other and continued with the ceremony, ignoring the confused citizens.
Everyone moved on, eventually. Not to say that the forgot about the pair, it was easier said than done. But they minded their own business.
During the course of the event, the citizens noticed the small things that the forgot about before, or which weren't relevant to them previously. Light touches on the back when no one seemed to be around. The constant eye contact, whenever it was possible for the two of them to do so. The attentiveness, not only on Rudyard's part – Eric also looked like he needed his partner to look at him, talk to him, touch him at every moment. Despite their obvious closeness, however, they always kept their distance. Not once did they violate each other's personal space or touched the other's hand or back longer than a few seconds. It was as if neither of them was willing to admit to others that they were more than 'dear friends'. Even if it was visible to anyone who looked at them for more than ten seconds.
With more examples it was becoming more and more apparent that there were only two possible answers to the question no one dared to voice.
Either Eric and Rudyard thought so little of their friends that they thought they could get away with that much flirting and still think no one will consider them romantically involved or...
Or the two dorks were hopelessly pinning after each other, not knowing how, or not wanting to, compromise their newly formed friendship. Either way, it was painful to watch and people of Piffling knew better than not to play with fire.
END of chapter one.