Randall doesn’t usually fight back.
He knows better than that; he ought to, by now, he’s been getting his arse kicked every day since he was born. Hell, he was only four when his mother held him down and burned a small cross into the back of his neck; a scar that he hid underneath curly hair. She’d promised him it’d ward off evil. But it didn’t do shit to keep Brian off of him.
Brian’s a fighter. And sometimes he fights to kill.
It’s only then that Randall knows he has to fight back. Those times are when Brian wraps his hands around his throat and squeezes so hard that he feels like the bones in his neck are going to break. He has to fight back because there’s no more chance to reason with him. No chance that he’s going to look into Randall’s panicked, bloodshot eyes and feel anything but a frenzied need to keep him down for good. So, he fights.
And when he fights, he wins. That’s the worst part. Brian’s eyes are never colder than when Randall’s taken a swing at him and knocked him back or drawn blood. And when there’s blood, he doesn’t care about killing him anymore. All he wants is to see pain. Tears. Remorse. He’ll make Randall sputter out the same apology over and over again with a knife at his throat until he’s convinced that Randall is truly sorry for hurting the closest thing to God he’ll ever touch.
And then he kisses Randall’s forehead, then his mouth, and leaves.
It’s not like that every day. Just often enough that Randall is truly terrified of what that man can become in the blink of an eye. Not that he ever stops being taken off-guard when a pleasant day suddenly turns bitter. Brian’s not always a monster; some days he’s perfectly lovely.
He someone to go to when Mum doesn’t want to take her meds and only wants to throw things at him. He shows up at any time and Brian welcomes him in, grabbing him by his belt and dragging him to the bed or the couch to rip off his clothes and remind Randall what is it to worship a god that’s come to earth.
(Brian keeps saying he’s a god. He has a complex. Randall plays into the fantasy as long as it keeps him alive, but it makes that cross-shaped scar on the back of his neck prickle like the real God is going to smite them both. But maybe that’s his mum’s voice talking in his mind and not his own. Does he even have his own thoughts, anymore?)
So they fuck, whether Randall wants to or not. It’s something he’s used to. People do this to him all the time. They grab him, pull him, shove him, rip his clothes off or dress him back up like a doll. That’s all you get when you look like he does. He grits his teeth and he puts up with it because when it’s over, he knows he can stay. That he doesn’t have to go back.
More than that, he knows that when it’s over, Brian will wrap his arms around Randall’s hips and kiss his shoulder like he loves him.
And then he asks the same question.
“You’re good, yeah?” He’ll whisper, trailing his tongue over the necklace of black and blue that Randall will have to hide under a scarf, thanking god that it’s always cold in London.
“I’m good.” He’ll say back because there’s no other answer that will appease him. And he’s rewarded with a few hours of peace before the anger builds up in Brian again.
Those hours aren’t long enough. The anger comes back so fast. And with it comes ice packs, split lips, and self-administered stitches. Randall sews himself together like Brian’s favourite ragdoll, always patched up and ready for the next blow.
That’s how it starts The soft tone. The gentle call. Luring him in close enough and leaning in like he might kiss him, but hitting him instead. Brian will start screaming his name, next, spitting it out like a curse. Sometimes that’s all he says. Knocks him down and kicks him so hard he can hear his ribs cracking, but never tells him why or what for. Maybe he doesn’t have a reason; maybe the only reason he has to hurt him is the act itself.
One day he cuts Randall. He’d been holding the knife low and cut right into Randall’s hip Worse than the pain was that he dropped down to his knees right afterward and buried his face against the wound, looking back up at Randall with his blood smeared on his mouth and nose.
“This is what love feels like.” He told him. He tossed the knife down and left Randall to stitch himself up and clean his own blood from the floor.
He comes by once more when Randall’s scrubbing to remove the stain and flicks his cigarette at him.
“Fag.” He says, and he laughs before disappearing for two days.
Best two days of Randall’s life in years.
But Brian never stays gone long and they’re locked in their dance. Always spinning around each other. Brian moves and Randall shifts automatically. Adjusting. Accommodating. Unconsciously moving the world to keep Brian from losing it. Old wounds heal and new ones come to replace them.
The scar on his hip is there forever. Tonight, he’s brushing his fingertips against it, feeling the difference in texture between that and he rest of his skin as he lies next to Brian in his bed and stares at the ceiling, waiting to be told to fuck off now that the other man has gotten what he wanted.
But Brian doesn’t say that. Not tonight. Instead, he rolls over onto his side and reaches over to push Randall’s hand out of the way and smooth his own fingers over the scar. His signature on Randall’s body.
“I want to go out, tonight.” He tells him.
It’s not a question of whether or not Randall will accompany him. It’s expected.
“Where?” Randall asks, anyway, pretending that there’s any civility in the conversations they have.
“First pub we see, I s’pose. Go clean yourself up. We’ll grab Joshua and Owen on the way.”
His muscles are already screaming in protest, but he dutifully rolls out of the bed and stumbles on stiff, aching legs to the bathroom, already feeling the dull pangs of horror over what marks are going to be on him, this time.
And wondering if he’s ever going to learn to really fight back.
Randall’s head hurts.
The ale helps, even if he doesn’t fancy the taste of it. Every mouthful puts a buzz in his head that dulls the pain back from searing agony to a faint throb and he’s grateful for that. But it doesn’t cure it completely. He’s not sure anything can; at least not with every attempt that Brian seems to be pulling to ensure that he never feels right /again/. He’d been a right foul mood since they’d stumbled from his flat just an hour ago. Running hot and cold, unable to decide if he was pleased to be out in the world or if he was furious that he hadn’t burned this whole planet to the ground, yet. First, he’d dealt with these mood swings in the usual way: shoving Randall around or pulling him back close, making everything spin like a godforsaken top. Endless and nauseating. But now, with Randall seated as far away from him as he can rationally get, Brian’s been forced to go to other means to get his rage heard.
And, for now, that meant playing pool. Very loudly. And challenging everyone within earshot to play against him, betting large sums he didn’t have and roaring with anger when no one seemed keen to take him up on his offer, falling back into playing round after round with Joshua or Owen instead.
It was Randall’s own, dumb luck that Brian wasn’t in the mood to play against him. He would force him over, sometimes, if he felt like humiliating him. Berating and tripping him up so he'd miss every shot and then laughing in his face or calling him names. But he was looking for a new target, tonight. A distraction.
That’s all Randall was looking for, too actually.
Letting his gaze wander away from where Brian seemed ready to hit Owen in the head with the pool cue. There aren’t very many people in here tonight; just a few regulars who already know about Brian’s temper and won’t take him up on his challenges and a shitty band whose unique ‘tuna can in a blender’ type sound really isn’t helping his headache. The idiot on the drums is offbeat and the thrown off tempo undermines any talent that the singer has. But Randall still watches them like he likes the sound because anything is better than looking at Brian and risking him deciding to fall back onto his favourite punching bag when it seems like he’s not getting anyone knew to attack.
Speak of the devil.
“Christ, this band is bloody awful!”
Brian’s voice carried over even the lead singer’s, drunken and pointed. Randall’s whipped his head in Brian’s direction, in spite of himself, wincing. Christ, he’s going to get them kicked out and hen he’s really going to have a headache.
His soft protest was ignored.
“Get off the bloody stage, already. No one wants to hear this shite. Right?”
Brian slammed his shoulder into Owen’s, his scowl daring him to disagree. Owen just shrugged and grunted in agreement, bending over the pool table and taking another shot, purposefully missing the corner pocket to keep Brian from turning his ire onto him. He stepped away from the table and shot Randall a “What can you do?” look as Brian only got louder, shouting over the singer now.
“I could torture a cat and have it make a better sound than this. Put me out of my misery already!”
Randall slumped down low in his seat, silently hoping that someone would do the same to him, already getting the feeling that he was going to have much worse than a headache by the end of the night.
There's always one.
There's always some stonking pillock in the pub who thinks shouting abuse at the band is the height of wit.
There's always that drunken sop who cannot grasp the concept of if you can't say something nice, don't speak at all.
There's always at least one.
Ripper's used to a less-than-stellar reception when they play. They're not called The Wretched for shits and giggles. They know they're not the next Zeppelin or Cream...or even the next Ramones, those three-chord wanker punk gods.
Usually, Ripper takes the taunting in stride. The barkeep gets proper miffed when they go a bit spare, even called the rozzers on them one night when a wee argy-bargy turned bloody pear-shaped and someone brought out a switchblade.
Tonight, though, Ripper's nerves are frayed almost before they even started - blasted drummer couldn't keep time if it were tied to his knob with twine, and the bass player just got his bird up the duff and had absolutely no concentration. It was enough to drive a man mad...and then the bloody chav had to flap his gob.
At the end of the set, Ripper sets his guitar down gently, hops off the makeshift stage, and saunters over to where the bugger is bent over the pool table. Ripper "accidentally" jostles the bloke's elbow as he takes a shot.
“I say, ye botched that shot right proper.”
Ripper leans against the table and lights a cigarette.
“Quite th' pity, innit?”
Brian jerks back like he's just been electrocuted by the man's touch, his fist tightening around the pool cue and his gaze murderous. For a minute, it seems like he might try to swing the cue at him...but he relaxes just a moment later, a calculated expression taking its place.
It's enough to make Randall's blood run cold. He knows that look and instinctively shifts in his seat, putting more distance between them. He really hopes the new bloke reads the tension and does the same.
"...Not to worry."
Brian continues, breezily, an unfriendly smile curling his lips.
"We were just about finished, anyway. Not a soul in here worth playing."
It's a challenge, pointed and true. Owen, sensing that he's been relieved from his obligation, plops down next to Randall at the table with a barely audible sigh of relief.
Randall doesn't feel that weight off his own shoulders, though. He knows what Brian is trying to goad the stranger into and he doesn't like it. There's no good outcome, here.
Brian isn't a good player. Not by a long shot. It takes more effort to lose to him than it does to beat him. And not only that, but he's a sore loser.
If they wager, Brian is bound to fall short. And he'll either start a fight or take it out on him. And, frankly? Randall isn't interested in either option.
He rises, slowly - his head is still killing him - and murmurs to Brian.
“Maybe we should just go? You don't like this place, anyway. What's the point in hanging around?”
Brian hissed back. He raised his hand and Randall flinched, automatically, but Brian only fondly patted his cheek. Maybe a little too hard, but not enough to be painful.
"The point is things might be getting interesting, Ran. I'll say when we go. Sit back down."
He speaks loudly. Much more than necessary. Not just to scare him, but to show off. Telling the new bloke loud and clear that he's in control.
There's no reasoning with him when he gets like this, so Randall backs off and sits back down, grimly finishing off his ale...and nodding in appreciation when Owen dumped the rest of his into his empty glass. He'd need all the buzz he could get.
Ripper notices the slight, blond bloke with a split lip and haunted eyes when the knob-end with the pool cue does the fake-out, menacing pat thing, and orders the man to sit like he were some dog.
The only thing Ripper hates more than a heckler is a rutting bully. Seems like Knob-end over here is a twofer. Bloody brill.
Ripper wanders to the far side of the table, picking up a cue from the rack on the wall, and chalks the business end with a well-practised insouciance.
“If ye're at loose ends an' feelin' spawny, could I tempt ye wif a wee wager?”
Brian doesn't have much of a poker face. He wears his emotions - usually rage or excitement - on his face like a badge of honour and really, there's no point in pretending to be disinterested.
This is the thrill he's been waiting for all night. Things have been tepid lately and he can't even get his cock hard until he's broken something on Randall or squeezed all the air from his lungs. Maybe he just doesn't beg like he used to...or maybe he just wants a taste of something new. Either way, this "singer" and his attitude is exactly the challenge he's been waiting for. The challenge that no one else is offering.
“You have my attention...mate. Name your wager.”
Ripper pulls out a cigarette and takes his time lighting it. He inhales deeply and puts the pack away without offering one to Knob-end.*
“If I win...ye leave this pub. An' ye never come back here.”
He flicks away the ash and continues.
“An' I want yer boy, there.”
Randall nearly chokes on his ale.
Actually, correction. He does choke on his ale. He sets the glass back down and tries to cough as quietly as possible, so as to not irritate Brian - force of habit - and to keep from drawing any more attention onto him than there already is. Because there's really no question of who he's talking about. Even with Owen and Joshua, there, he's the only one ever called as belonging to Brian...and the only one who everyone thinks of as a boy.
Owen thumps him on the back, helpfully, and gets him breathing again. His heart pounding in his ears and his lungs aching something terrible. He steals a glance at Ripper and then looks away, a blush darkening his face.
He must be joking. What would he want with him?
Brian says, his tone falsely polite, as his own, bright blue eyes flash to Randall's face just in time to see it go red with that blush he both despises and adores.
He bets that little prick is imagining it, already. Too damn stupid to understand that he's never letting go. His mouth is too soft and his eyes too trusting. He'll never have so much control over anyone again.
“I can understand the first part...but him?”
He points at Randall, his upper lip curling back over his teeth when he looks at the boy. Trying to scare him. The expression is gone when he looks back at the singer.
“Randall's got a pretty face, sure, but not much else. Why don't we wager for dosh, instead, hm?”
His tone is casual. Too casual. Trying to make the man change his mind. That twink is his until he gets bored enough to put him in the ground.
...But still, he's never been one to back away from a challenge.
“Ain't got none.” Ripper shrugs as he blows the excess blue chalk dust from the cue. “But if yer too much mouth an' no trousers, I c'n wag off an' get me knees up elsewhere.”
Ripper sets down the cue and starts to walk off.
Brian calls him back, hastily. He can't let that dirty little fucker make him look bad in front of his own mates.
“But you break.”
Ripper grins to himself before returning to the table. He's got Knob-end's number, all right, and he's gonna make sure it's a bleedin goose egg before he's done.
“Hey now, before ye chivvy me along, we gotta set the wager. I've said wot I want if I win...wot's yer fancy if yer th' lucky winner?”
“...I'll have your guitar.”
The nearest thing to love a man has, isn't? Everyone he's ever known who played guitar treated the instrument better than his missus. And he's going to break the damned thing right in front of him when he wins.
“Do we have an agreement?”
Ripper glances towards the stage where he left his guitar. He stole and sold a whole lot of shite til he could buy that beauty...
He turns back to Knob-end and holds his hand out for the shake to seal the deal.
“Agreed. ...Name's Ripper,by th' way.”
He lets go of "Ripper"'s hand as soon as he can and nods his head in the direction of the pool table.
It's not a polite suggestion. He sets his cue down and strolls over to where Randall is still sitting, pulling him up out of his chair and looming over him.
He smiles a cool little smile.
“Give us a kiss, then. For good luck.”
Randall tries not to cower, but that look in Brian's eyes is usually followed by bleeding.
“...If you're as good as you say you are, you don't need luck. Right?”
Brian narrows his eyes and yanks him up into a kiss anyway, tangling his fingers in his wild mane of blonde curls and sucking his bottom lip between his teeth.
He owns him and he rubs his thumb against the spot on Randall's hip where he stabbed him. That scar is his signature on his body. No one else is going to have him. Ever.
He pulls back and shoves Randall back down, done with him. He's sure Ripper gets the point, anyhow.
Ripper snickers audibly at the blond bloke's comment about needing luck. Who needs luck when you have physics, Council-sponsored accuracy training, and a year of pool hustling for cash beneath one's belt?
He bends over the table, takes aim at the racked balls, and shoots.
Unfortunately, he catches Brian's rather vulgar display of aggression against the poor lad, and chips the ball, breaking the set very badly indeed.
Brian inhales through his teeth, imitating a sympathetic hiss as he picks his own cue up and surveys the barely broken set. He didn't pocket any, but a few of them make it to the rail so he's not going to press him to re-break. No use in taking it slow, anyhow. He just wants to get his hands on that guitar so he can smash the thing against the side of this blasted table.
“Tough luck, "Ripper".”
He leans over the table, himself, lining up his shot. He doesn't feel that he needs to call it: it's pretty obvious that he's aiming to sink the solid blue in the corner. But he's posturing too much; showing off too much and though the cue ball hits it with a satisfying "crack!" there's too much force behind it and it bounces off of the side and cracks back into the barely-broken set, spreading them out a bit more.
“Aww, tough luck, Brian…”
Ripper smirks as he realizes exactly what he's working with. He stalks around the table until he sees the exact shot he was looking for. Something fun, but not too showy.
“Three an' four, corner pocket.”
He leans over the table, lines up his angles, and shoots. The cue ball banks off the side rail, scoots past the 8-ball to smack into the 3-ball. The 3-ball knocks into the 4-ball, and both fall into the corner pocket, as predicted.
“Guess yer stripes, Brian.”
Brian's upper lip curls back over his teeth and if looks could kill, Ripper would have keeled over on the side of the table and he'd be well on his way to fucking his pretty boy's mouth in the alleyway.
But looks don't kill and it looks like it's his turn to take a shot. For a moment he's almost nervous...but he shrugs it off. He's never lost before and he's not starting today.
He leans over the table and lines up his next shot. He doesn't call it, just sinks the striped "12" into the side pocket. Relieved, he stands up straight and shoots a cocky grin at Ripper before turning his attention back to Randall. He's the only one worth taunting, anyway.
“You look nervous, lover-mine.”
Randall murmurs, absently, not really looking at either of them but also unable to tear his gaze away. What is he supposed to be feeling? Watching these two, playing pool over a wager that involves him...
He keeps stealing glances at the singer, trying to be discreet enough that Brian doesn't start to get pissed. Ripper, he'd called himself... what was he hoping to get out of this? And did he really think Brian was just going to amicably part ways with him when he lost?
Ripper takes a long draught from the pint a very fit barmaid brought to him and holds onto it as he again circles the table.
In contrast to Knob-end, er, Brian, Ripper's expression is of concentration, and his voice is mild.
“Why should he be nervous? Yer gonna win, right?”
Ripper drains the pint, sets the glass down, and takes his shot. He doesn't pocket any balls...but every single stripe is either blocked by or in danger of sinking a solid.
Satisfied, Ripper stands up and smiles blandly as he addresses the blond bloke.
“So. Ye got a name, mate?”
Randall's dark eyes flash to Ripper's face when he addresses him, and then dart to Brian's like he's waiting for permission to speak...only, he's too intent on figuring out how to take his next movie to care about whatever conversation their having, so it looks like he's just going to have to take the risk.
His voice is low but surprisingly steady...and then he has to bite his tongue to keep from laughing. This bloke just made a wager about who gets to "have" him and he's only now asking his name?
“...You have a very interesting way of introducing yourself to people, Ripper. You know that?”
There's a loud crack as the cue ball hits into one of the stripes and knocks not one but two solids into the pocket. He slams the cue down against the side of the table and rounds on Randall, pointing it at him like he has half a mind to knock him off of his chair with the stick.}
“Randall, don't bore our guest with your trivial conversation. No one wants to hear it and you just fucking THREW ME OFF OF MY SHOT.”
He takes a deep breath, forcing himself to reclaim his pleasant smile.
“You don't want to embarrass yourself. Keep your mouth shut.”
“He's noa th' one embarrassin' himself, though, is he?” With a rueful smile, Ripper takes his shot. “Personally, I donnae mind his jaw waggin'...an' it don't distract me none.”
Whilst speaking, Ripper's shot sends another solid careening into a pocket, but not before it knocks two stripes into awkward positions, hugging the bank.
“Do ye often get easily distracted, Brian? Ye may need ta cut back on th' sweets. Sugar's proper awful fer focus.”
“I guess that's the golden wit that Randall has to look forward to on the off chance that you actually win this little wager, hm? Just a shame that it's all you have to offer, isn't?”
Brian’s hands are shaking with barely contained rage. He needs to hit something - someone - make them bleed and scream and cry. But that's not an option, now. Too many witnesses, and he's sure that there's a rule against taking their "winnings" out back to work out their frustration on.
So, he takes his shot and botches it, hitting another one of Ripper's in, instead. One more solid and the 8-ball and the bastard wins.
Brian takes a step back away from the table, discreetly checking to make sure that he has his blade on him. Always good to have a plan B.
“Oh, there's more ta me than me brilliant mind an' golden tongue.”
Ripper waves to the barmaid for another pint, indicating she should put it on Brian's tab.
“I c'n also play a decent round o' pool.”
“Aw, now I feel bad. Here, have a prezzy.”
Ripper scrutinizes the table, takes aim, and shoots. The cue ball smacks the 8-ball, which knocks into three stripes, sending two balls, one after the other into a corner pocket. The third ball banks off the side and slowly rolls into the opposing side pocket.
Brian tightens his grip on the cue stick, his knuckles turning white. He can feel the eyes of everyone on the pub looking at him. Staring. Muttering under their breaths and mocking him. He clenches his jaw so hard he can feel something crack and leans back against the pool table.
“You think I need your pity?”
He turns, bending over the table and taking a shot without really focusing on it. It's sheer, dumb luck that he hits one of his balls into the pocket but he stands up with a cocky smile like it was what he meant to do.
“I s'ppose noa...but tha's all yer gettin' from me, tonight, ye gobby chav.”
Ripper shoots. The cue ball hits the last solid into one corner pocket, and the 8-ball into the adjacent pocket.
“Game's mine, innit.”
“...So it is.”
Brian stands up, a lopsided grin on his face and he takes half a step towards Randall, gesturing vaguely at the boy.
“Which, I guess, means that you'll be taking home this little beauty. How do you want him? I could wrap him up in a red ribbon or maybe -”
He turns back around and swings his pool cue at Ripper, hitting him in the leg to sweep him off of his feet. He's about to lunge down on him… but someone grabs him from behind, before he can, and pulls him back. He writhes, wildly, and turns to see that Randall's grabbed him by the arm that he was about to use to swing the pool cue back down on Ripper's smarmy face.
“...Oh, pretty boy, this is a special kind of stupid. Even for you.”