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The Quiet One

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"How do you keep from going crazy?"

Nick finally asks the question it's taken half a bottle of Bombay Sapphire to articulate (well, a quarter, he supposes, since John's been matching him shot for shot since cracking the seal) although any answering advice his calmly collected comrade might offer was the whole reason he'd come to visit.

"Look around..." John chuckles, spreading his arms to indicate the entire bizarre basement bar. "Some might say I haven't had much luck at that."

Taxidermy sharks swim suspended from the ceiling, swaying slightly over obscure oddments. Nick's gaze sweeps across several dressmakers' dummies, garbed in outlandish outfits he surmises from sizes are John's own clothes, loosely grouped around an honest-to-god suit of plate steel armor far too small to fit the big bassist. Now that he really looks, Nick's somewhat surprised to see so many weapons. John's always come off as placidly peaceful, but in view are several swords and multiple muzzleloaders amidst antiquated array...axes, hammers, maces...piercing, pulverizing panoply.

"Damn, Ox." Nick quips, eyeing what looks suspiciously like a catapult in one corner, as his host pours them both another tot of gin. "When the shit hits the fan, I'm gonna hole up HERE. You're loaded for bear."

"Ain't no bears in there..." John intones, picking up his glass and motioning for Nick to follow suit in a toasting gesture "...and may the woods in which they shit not be OUR collective neck of them."

"I'll drink to THAT." Nick says, and does, continuing ruefully after the Bombay burns away "I smell it coming, though."

John downs his own drink then asks "Would this be general, world's-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket crap or sad, sorry PERSONAL shit?" He mitigates mocking question with sincere, sympathetic inquiry "Are you okay? You turned up like a fugitive, mate. No foolin', I scanned your hands and clothes for blood. Thought maybe you needed a place to hide."

"I do..." Nick confesses, holding out his empty glass, which John obligingly refills "...just for a little while." He wants very much to spill this horrorshow, but hasn't had enough liquid courage to overcome guilt at telling tales out of school. Still, though, he's seen and heard a few things that lead him to believe John might understand...and won't gossip.

"That bad? Are they fighting?"

"No..." Nick sighs, amending "... not much. THAT's not even the problem. I can usually stay out of the catfights." He tosses back his shot then carries on with a grimace "Most of them are about stupid nitpicky malarkey, anyway, and I say "Let the baby have his bottle." to whoever's squallin' louder, but..." he pauses, awkwardly trying to delineate his distress "...this thing with Syd...I just CAN'T..."

John nods sagely "He's gettin' kinda flaky, yeah?"

"Well, YEAH." Nick wholeheartedly agrees and goes one further "He's gettin' fuckin' CREEPY. It's like I can't let my guard down around him."

"Worried he might knife you in your sleep?"

"Almost wish it WERE that." Nick blurts with a peal of nervous laughter "He's a lover, not a fighter."

"Oh?" John raises an eyebrow "Coming on to you, is he?"

"YES!" Nick is so relieved he didn't have to say it he's able to say more. "Practically every time we're alone together...and sometimes even when we're NOT...he's tried to kiss me in front of a packed house."

"Only tried?" smirks John, taking up the blue bottle to tip out two more measures "Never succeeded?"

"Of COURSE not!" Nick snaps indignantly, ducking his head slightly to admit "Well...not on the mouth, anyway."

John's half-smile becomes a crooked leer. "WHERE, then?"

"Wherever he can reach..." Nick's aware that could sound dirty, and attempts to forestall ribald remark. "It's not funny, Ox. If I wanted somebody to laugh at me I'd be talkin' to Roger." Both men swallow their shots before Nick's able to voice the query that had brought him here. "Has anything like that ever happened to you?"

"Blokes've been givin' me the eye since before I left school." Far from vexed or dismayed, John sounds almost proud.

"If it were just the EYE, I could maybe turn a blind one, but he's like some horrid, horny hobgoblin." Nick sighs, finally feeling fortified enough to elaborate, albeit haltingly "He gets...physical. REALLY grabby sometimes...and makes offers...propositions...of a whole lot more."

John's amused expression morphs into one of almost dreamy nostalgia. "Does he creep naked into your bed saying 'pretty please'?"

"Nothing THAT awful..." Nick says, relieved, adding "I'm not sure 'please' is even in his vocabulary."

"Would you feel different if it were?" John's cool demeanor displays no trace of tease, and Nick briefly considers the question as seriously as it was posed.

"No." unbidden grin accompanies answer "Syd's such a slut. I've seen him trot the same trip on Roger and Rick, too."

"Would it be better if he only had eyes..." John smiles back curiously "...and offers...for you?"

Nick needs no rumination this time. "That might actually be WORSE."

"How so?"

"If he really, y'know, LOVED me, I don't think I could even keep workin' with him." Nick's finding John as calmly accepting of this crazy conundrum as he'd hoped...or maybe it's just the gin loosening his tongue as well as his tension. "He's already hard as hell to handle, and he's got this way of acting like turning him down's the coldest, cruelest, most mean move in the world."

There's that look of fond recollection again as John speaks with uncanny understanding "As if you could kiss away his pain? Make him whole and happy if you'd only be nice enough to give him what he wants?"

"Right With Eversharp, mate." Nick agrees, gleaning John indeed has personal experience with similar straits and erupting into a flurry of nosy questions. "How do you deal with it? Does it drive you right 'round the bend, like you don't know whether to smack him or run away...or cry? What if he DOES crawl into my bed some night? How do YOU say no?"

Pouring another pair of drinks, John answers only Nick's last inquiry with neither evasion nor embarrassment. "I don't...always."

Nick is shocked, but struggles not to show it. John might not be saying what it sounds like, but even if he IS, well, it wouldn't do to seem small-minded. "You mean you actually let him...?" he trails off.

"It's not so much LETTING as it is MANAGING." John serenely informs "Having something he wants, but only sharing it on YOUR terms...when he behaves himself and asks sweetly, and you FEEL like it, of course...gives you a fair amount of control over his hopped-up horseshit." He regards Nick intently, a hint of insinuation creeping into his voice. "I daresay your Roger knows that...and likely uses it."

Nick tries to banish images conjured by that thought with Sapphire shot before cautiously contradicting. "Roger might KNOW...prob'ly does...but says it was resorting to violence what got Syd to stop pestering HIM." He's at last reached insulated intoxication, words finally flowing as freely as the spirits have been. "I don't think I can do THAT, but I KNOW I can't...won't EVER...feel like even TRYING to manage like you do." John has accepted and even understood everything so far, he'll probably have some sympathy for this, too..."I dunno if there's any way to fix this crazy crap, of if it's even worth it. Not just Syd, but ALL of it. The whole rock-n-roll life, Ox...it's madness to chain yourself to the same three fellows. Like the most fucked-up marriage, it seems like you CAN stick with it forever at first, but then when you see the cold cream and curlers and claws it doesn't look so pretty anymore and you wonder why you ever thought it was beautiful...or ever could be again." Nick turns imploring eyes to John's "Do you ever want to chuck it? Just want to move on while you're still young enough to make a fresh start and maybe have a normal life?"

It's John's turn to be shocked, and also to seem clearly inebriated, openly appalled at Nick's suggestion. "NEVER. What we do...what we ARE...it IS beautiful, Nick. It's priceless, and precious. It's not a marriage, or if it IS, it's a really fuckin' open one..." John guffaws "...y'don't gotta be faithful an' you still gotta place to call home... it's an adopted family business. A going concern with happy returns."

"Maybe for YOU..." Nick grouses, but John's on a roll.

"Your problem is your Boss don' bend, but he don' step up, either. He knows what he's about, but ain' sure you'll toe the line if he draws it for you. Mind you, Pete c'n be a real hardcase, too, but at least he's flexible...an' forgiving."

Nick can't believe John has it so wrong. "Syd, a hardcase?" he scoffs "He's a fuckin' marshmallow...and never holds a grudge. The only hard thing about him is the obscene octopus psycho shit I ran away from today."

John's features assume a patronizing, almost paternal air as he shakes his head heavily. "Oh, my...Okay, then, THAT's your problem."

"Yeah, Syd's a shitty bandleader, so we're a shitty band." Nick retorts peevishly "You already said that."

"That's not what I said at all." John sounds wounded "What I SAID was little nutter's not the Boss, an' if YOU don' know that I guess your family's fucked an' you SHOULD cut-n-run."

Now it makes sense, and Nick knows John's right, but has no clue whether or not Syd and Rick could ever agree to accept it, too. This suddenly seems too private a matter to keep blithely bandying over Bombay, but discombobulated drummer cannot help but wonder if the Floyd family might thrive with a more dedicated, determined driver. Still, though...

"NOBODY can run a family business with Syd getting up to monkey business. I can't work with that gropey-grabby creepy-crawly kissy-face stuff, man. I just do NOT love him like that, and I'm runnin' out of ways to say so."

John offers an easy, lazy smile that relieves Nick of any worry their brief disagreement might've offended. "Well, if you're truly concerned for your virtue but can't say 'no' hard enough, you need a Bixby Acoustic."

That's a brand-name new to Nick, who bursts into laughter to envision himself as Quickdraw McGraw whacking cartoon Syd with an animated guitar.

["El Ka-BONG!"]

"I've never heard of a Bixby Acoustic. Do I play it for him, or hit him with it?" Nick giggles.

John over-enunciates, articulating crisply as he reaches behind the bar. "Bitch...Be...Cool...Stick."

The object he hands to Nick is as oddly unfamiliar as the term. A heavy, metal wand nearly as long as his arm between rubberized handle and pronged tip, integrated with button, knob and battery pack. Painted along the length of one side in silver gothic script are the words: BITCH, BE COOL! It obviously does something, and although Nick's curious he's also a bit afraid to find out what.

"What's it for?"

John takes it back, makes a twiddling adjustment, thumbs the button and casually touches the tip to the tail of a sleeping cat atop nearby barstool. The wand gives a cracklesnap zap and the cat utters a startled yowl before offering a baleful, vengeful glare and leaping to the floor to stalk away.

"That was the lowest setting. On higher ones, it's for makin' little nutter keep sticky paws to himself."

Nick can neither help a hearty cackle nor a questing probe. "Have YOU ever used it...for THAT?"

"A time or six." John cheerfully acknowledges.

"Does it work?"

"Not always." John admits "Sometimes he likes it. Anyway, he's not scared of it anymore." He holds the cattle prod's handle back toward Nick. "Here. All yours, with my compliments." He offers generously, grinning gleefully. "You need it way more than I do."

Nick doubles over in howling, helpless hilarity for a moment before managing to hold out both palms, splayed fingers waving away the proffered gift. "Oh, NO...Thanks, Ox, but I COULDN'T..."

"Couldn' use it?" asks John "It's easy, an' it won' hurt him...much."

"Couldn't KEEP it." Nick chortles "If I brought something like THAT home, it'd fall into Roger's hands, and then God help us all."