Bernie’s memory that night had been foggy around the edges, but he still remembered it clear enough.
He’d stomped out the joint under the sole of his boots, feeling the pleasant content of an easy high overwhelm him blissfully.
He smiled faintly, resting his head against the stone wall behind him. The coolness of it added to his content before he tore himself away and picked his drink back up, then went back inside.
It was another party, but Bernie couldn’t really remember what they were celebrating—not that Elton needed much of an excuse.
The party was at his best friend’s mansion in LA, a giant place that was outrageous enough to make any blue-blooded posh git turn their nose up and make those rich enough but not know any better awe with excitement.
Honestly, Bernie found it a bit too much, though, Reg was allowed to decorate his house how he liked he had made it clear to his friend multiple times that the place was a bloody maze with too many narrow corridors.
Bernie’s brow furrowed, unintentionally running his hands over the walls as he tried to find his way back to the main party where he’d left his date by the kitchen. He thought about yelling her name, hoping the sound would echo loud enough for her to follow, but then he remembered he couldn’t recall what her name was…
The hallway was a blur of expensive-looking paintings and ornaments he didn’t recognize and all blended together to look like they were the same, so he didn’t realize he had well and truly no idea where he was when the noise from the party was a faint thrum, with only a few echoes of laughter and the odd drunken scream.
“Fuck…” he mumbled sluggishly, feeling exhausted as he leaned against a door and rested his head.
He stayed like that for a long while, relaxing until he heard the muffled but still very distinct voice of Elton sounding pissed followed by a door slamming.
“—It wasn’t even like that!”
Bernie’s eyes snapped open, frowning as he moved off the door and looked down the hallway as he started to walk towards the source.
There were some more banging noises that made him walk a little faster with each step as the noises got louder and louder until he could hear bits of the conversation.
A familiar, grating, Scottish drawl cut through Elton’s yelling. “—Do you have any idea of how much of an embarrassment you’re being right now? In front of our guests.”
Bernie stopped outside of a white door, knowing full well that this was none of his business. This was a fight between Reggie and his boyfriend, and he was invading his best mate’s privacy just listening to the whole thing…
“Christ, John, will you just leave it for five minutes and just FUCK OFF!!”
There was thud of a body hitting a wall and then something smashed on the floor.
Bernie would blame it on the high later, but he for that split second he just needed to know what was happening, so he opened the door and then wished he hadn't.
There was a smashed bottle of vodka at both their feet when Bernie stared at them from the doorway.
Reid backhanded Elton across the face from where he had him pinned against the wall.
Bernie couldn't remember the expressions on Reid or Elton’s faces when the door opened, but he remembered everything freezing when Reid’s face turned to his direction.
“Bernie,” Reid said calmly, blinking a few times as he loosened his hold on Elton’s expensive suit jacket and slid them to Elton’s shoulders. “Can we help you with something?”
Elton looked up in alarm, cradling the left side of his face. “Bernie?” he mumbled, the previous fire in his voice gone. “I thought you went home?”
Bernie’s hands were twitching and fidgeting when he felt something build up inside him the longer he stared at them. It was a type of anger he rarely experiences and never wanted to again.
He had no idea what was going on, and everything was a haze, but he was focussed enough to know he needed Reggie to be as far away from Reid as possible right now.
“What the fuck do you think…?” He’d taken a few steps forward but stopped when Reid pulled Elton closer. “John…get away from him.”
“Bernie.” Elton adjusted his glasses back into place, frowning. “It’s okay, we were just—things just got a little heated, that’s all.” He refused to look at Bernie at all even behind the tinted glasses which were now partly hiding the red swelling on his face. “It’s all good.”
The buzzing in his veins got worse and worse, as he curled his hands into a fist, growing more focussed as when he saw Reid had slid his hand down to Elton’s hip and kept it there. It made his skin crawl.
“Reggie.” It was a miracle his voice stayed so calm. “He hit you.” He tore his gaze from Reid to Elton, swallowing thickly when he saw his friend shift uneasily. “That’s not okay.”
Elton fidgeted. “I’m fine,” he insisted but still didn’t look at Bernie directly. “We just lost our tempers for a bit—you know how things can get. It’s all fine, Bernie, honestly.”
“It was a bit more than just losing your tempers, Reg,” Bernie said levelly.
Reid sighed deeply. “Bernie, I understand where you’re coming from, but this is a private matter,” he was speaking the same reasonable tone he used with producers or clients; the one Bernie had found grating over the last year or so. “I’ll be the first to admit I did go a little overboard there, but Elton and I love each other.” The smile he had on was a twisted impression of remorse. “I don’t mean to sound patronizing, but you wouldn’t understand what a relationship of our…type, is like.”
“Hitting your boyfriend isn’t a special type of relationship, John,” Bernie’s voice was cold. “So how about you step away from Elton before I give you an example?”
“Bernie!” Elton looked horrified, stepping in front of Reid protectively. “Just leave it, all right?” he looked back and forth at the two of them, hands trembling slightly. “Let’s just—let’s just get a drink for a minute okay.” To Bernie’s relief, he stepped out of Reid's hold and wandered over to a drawer near the corner of the room—some kind of lounge with a sofa Bernie only now realized a second later when he actually looked around the room. “Let’s just calm down, okay?”
“Reggie…” Bernie inched forward more, keeping his eyes trained on Reid.
Elton had pulled out a fresh bottle of whiskey and glasses from God knows where. “You know how I can get, Bernie.” He started to talk too fast, shaking as he uncapped the bottle. “I was the one being a prick, especially earlier—things just went a little too far is all—but, it’s all fine!” He poured three glasses with trembling fingers, spilling whiskey on the fancy wooden coffee table in the middle of the room.
Bernie shook his head slowly, dread prickling his skin like a rash. “No, Reg, it’s still not—“
“Bernie, just lay off it!” Elton snapped, spilling his drink when he straightened up, glaring at him. “Just leave it, all right!”
Bernie’s mouth snapped shut when he realized Reggie was just growing more and more upset. The tinted sunglasses weren't hiding the tears gathering in his best friend's eyes just as the large jacket with too many frills couldn't hide the way Elton's shoulders hunched. He felt rooted on the spot, wanting to walk over and hug him, to make the hurt go away.
Reid slowly moved back towards Elton and curved an arm around his shoulders. “Darling, ssh,” he soothed gently as Elton leaned into the embrace. “Calm down, now. It’s all right.” Reid’s eyes narrowed with what could be mistaken for protectiveness. “I think that’s quite enough, Bernie.”
He felt dizzy as he watched Reid tenderly comfort Elton and stroke the bruise blossoming behind his glasses like the whole mess was Bernie’s fault…and it was in some way, wasn’t it? He’d pushed Elton too far. Bernie’s mouth tasted like bile when the guilt came on in full force, feeling like the ground beneath him was shaking when his legs felt unsteady.
His focus strayed from guilt, fogging up around the edges until his gaze wandered back to Reid whispering sweetly into Elton’s ear as he held his hand in his. He’d never seen two men be so tender to one another, and for a second he started to doubt if he’d ever seen Reid’s outburst, to begin with, but the evidence was still there on Elton’s face even if he was resting his head on Reid’s chest: The skin was still swelling an out of place pink on Elton’s pale cheek, and there was still smashed glass on the wooden floor.
Bernie forced himself to focus, trying to think of what the hell he was supposed to do. Arguing with Elton would get nowhere, especially when it was becoming a struggle for Bernie to keep his eyes open and stand steady.
“Okay, Elton, I get it,” Bernie said quietly, trying to choose his words carefully when he saw how close Elton clung to Reid. “I’m sorry for…for barging in.” He raised his hands, feeling relief when Elton slowly lifted his gaze up to look at him. “I’m not trying to make…assumptions on anything. I’m just concerned, okay?”
Elton inched out of Reid’s hold a little, clutching his drink tightly. “…It was just a one-off, Bernie. It’s fine, really.”
Bernie wanted to believe that, that this was something that wouldn’t happen again but…he may have been high, but he wasn’t stupid. The problem was that he didn’t know what to do or who to go to. If it was a woman, if he’d seen John lay his hands on a woman as he’d just done to Elton; he would have gone to the police…he still could. Assault was still a crime…but…
“We appreciate your concern, Bernie.” John softly kissed the crown of Elton’s head, smiling gently. The picture of a loving boyfriend, if it wasn’t for his eyes that were like flint when they stared at Bernie intently. “But I think you’re overstepping your boundaries a bit here.”
Bernie's jaw clenched tight, struggling to stay calm.
“Why don’t we go back downstairs?” Elton said, staring down at his whiskey. “We can talk later.” He lifted his gaze to meet Bernie’s. “Alright, Bernie?” Even behind the glasses, he could see his skin yellowing, eyes sunken and tired.
Bernie swayed slightly, leaning against the wall to steady himself. This wasn’t a battle he was going to win tonight. Elton wouldn’t press charges, not now, not when Reid was acting like this and kissing his bruises like he hadn’t been the one to make them in the first place.
“…Alright,” he replied quietly, nodding slowly. “Whatever you need, mate…”
Elton had nodded, downing his drink in one go before putting on an uncomfortable smile which looked more like a grimace than anything. Reid kept his hand on the small of his back as he stepped back, gaze still trained on Bernie like he was the one who was a threat to Elton.
But, Bernie kept his mouth closed, following closely as they made their way back downstairs, leaving behind the smashed bottle and whiskey in the room like the whole mess could just be closed off for someone else to clean up.
By the time they’d gone downstairs, the girl he’d come with was long gone or disappeared somewhere far away enough that Bernie was too tired to look for her. He spent the rest of the night keeping quiet while he lingered near Elton protectively, while Reid stuck close by in-between. Bernie didn’t try to push further, knowing it’d be a push too far.
Bernie drank a little too much when he watched Reid and Elton carefully, feeling his gut twist each time they’d laugh or share a smile, as if less than an hour earlier hadn’t happened, like Elton hadn’t slipped on a quick coat of cover-up to hide the pinkish swelling on the left side of his face.
His lips hovered over the rim of the bottle, and it was in the moment he knew Elton would not be talking to him about it tomorrow, that this night would be dismissed as a blurred memory to be hidden behind a door or brushed under a rug that wouldn’t be unearthed until Reggie was finally ready to actually see what was happening.
Bernie drank, forgetting the rest of the night in a dark greyed out blur.