When Alex was younger, much, much younger, he used to put on his coat, pop his collar, and go outside in the rain, splashing in the puddles up and down the sidewalk in front of his house. He’d march up and down until his trouser legs were wet up to the thigh and one of his parents yanked him back inside by the back of his popped collar. He liked it though, all alone in the rain. He would pretend to be an MI5 agent, or an international spy, or a wealthy man.
“Like men who walked with purpose,” he says to Miles and Miles laughs out loud. “In the rain?”
“Well, yeah,” says Alex. “Like in movies!”
“Movies!” says Miles lighting up. “Yeah, all right. Like in movies. I used to do that too, I guess, but I didn’t put on a coat and I didn’t walk, I just jumped up and down until my mum yelled at me to stop. I don’t think I was a man with purpose, though. Just a kid in the rain.”
“The important part is the rain,” Alex assures him.
“Is it?” says Miles. “I thought it was the popped collars.”
“Everyone looks good in suits,” says Miles. He adjusts Alex’s collar and pats Alex’s chest. Alex grins at him and Miles pats Alex’s cheek as well. The audience is chanting their names -- their names, not the band’s. “It’s a fact.”
“Just friends” turns into “just jamming” turns into “just writing” turns into a day in the studio so bad that James snaps, “Ten minute break. Get it together.”
Alex follows Miles outside. It has been raining all day, and the ground is beyond soaked, deep puddles welling up in all corners of the courtyard.
“Reckon we’ll ever have a sunny day?” Miles asks, smiling warily.
“Never,” says Alex. He hugs himself, shivering a little. “It always rains in August.”
Miles steps out from under the overhang into the courtyard. The sunlight breaks through the rain clouds and for a minute Alex thinks that Miles himself is shining. But that would be stupid because men can’t shine. In the next minute the sun disappears under an absolute torrent. Miles yelps and covers his head with his arms. That’s pretty stupid too.
“Come here,” he yells at Miles.
“No,” Miles yells back. “No, you!”
He dances over to Alex, the dance of a man who knows he is wet beyond the help of towels and hand-dryers, and grabs his elbow. Alex stumbles out into the rain after him and they stand in the middle of the courtyard looking up at the sky.
“I thought you were shining for a bit,” Alex admits.
“What?” says Miles. He leans close, head touching Alex’s. Alex presses close, shoulder to shoulder. “I can’t hear you, the rain’s too fucking loud.”
“James is going to kill us,” says Alex. Miles nods. “He is.”
An interviewer gets distracted once, turns around to talk to their manager. Miles turns his head and kisses Alex on the cheek so quick and close that Alex startles and knocks his head against Miles’. They’re both rubbing their heads when the interviewer turns back around.
Thunder wakes him up at two in the morning and then his phone goes off and Alex nearly falls out of his bed trying to grab it. “Alex,” says Miles. “Alex, Alex, Alex? Are you alive?”
“Of course I’m alive, you complete tosser.” He yawns and glances out the window. Distant lightening falls onto the city.
“Oh good.” Miles sounds slightly hysterical. “I had a nightmare, mate. It was awful. It was like the first bit of the ‘Understatement’ video.” He rambles on for a bit about snow and the Eastern front. Alex makes appropriate noises and tries to keep from falling asleep.
“And then,” says Miles. “You died. You got your head blown off and it was all over me and then your body fell backwards and it was at my feet and it was like my fucking chest had been split open and my heart ripped out.” He breathes in sharply, as if he’d surprised himself somehow. Then he carries on. “I fell to my knees and your body disappeared. I tried to shoot myself but my gun was out of bullets.”
“Jesus Christ,” says Alex. He sits straight up. “You tried to shoot yourself?”
“My fucking chest, man. It felt like I was already dying, so I just went around the field looking for a gun but every gun I found was empty.”
“Don’t ever shoot yourself because of me,” says Alex. “That’s not fucking funny.”
“I’m not fucking laughing, am I? I found one with a bullet,” says Miles. “But right as I put it to my head, I woke up.”
“Thunder?” Alex asks.
“Thunder,” Miles confirms. “But it was so loud that I thought I had really shot myself for a minute.”
“Jesus,” says Alex.
“I know,” says Miles. “I want to write a song about it, but I’d probably cry every time I’d have to sing it. I’d probably just look at you next me and start bawling.”
“We’re not writing a song about me getting my head blown off and you killing yourself because of it.” Alex gets out of bed and walks to the bathroom for a glass of water. The cold tile floor makes him wince. “Miles? We are not writing a song about that.”
“Yeah, good idea,” says Miles. “I gotta take a shower. I feel like I still have your brains on me.” He takes a deep breath. “See you later, yeah? Don’t get your head blown off before I see you next.”
“Don’t shoot yourself,” says Alex and Miles hangs up with a shaky laugh, punctuated by the sound of thunder from both ends of the phone.
Alex has an attack of nerves right before a show. He grabs Miles’ hands and dances around in a circle. “Cupid, draw back your bow,” he sings, “and let your arrow go.” It sounds less like Sam Cooke and more like Alex if Alex was tweaking but Miles joins him effortlessly: “Straight to my lover’s heart for me.” They are in perfect harmony.
“For me,” Miles finishes.
On a red carpet, once, they get asked what it’s like to take over the world, what it’d be like to rule it, what’d it be like to have a planet to themselves.
“Uh,” they both say. Alex rubs his head and glances at Miles. “I think it’s more like we’ve taken on the world.”
“I don’t think we rule it yet,” says Miles. “Give it a month or two. We need more tanks.”
“More tanks,” Alex agrees. “More tanks, dancing girls, songs---“Alex brushes lint off of Miles’ collar. “Suits.”
The reporter laughs. “And if you had the world to yourselves?”
“Like, just the two of us? I dunno.” Miles turns to look at Alex. Alex nearly goes cross-eyed looking back at him. “What would you want to do?”
“Sit in the sun,” says Alex.
“You’re have the entire fucking world and me, and that’s all you want to do? Sit in the sun?” Miles shakes his head. “You’re ridiculous.”
“I meant if you ruled the world,” says the reporter helpfully.
“Oh,” they say. “Probably, uh,” begins Alex. “Maybe we’d, uh,” says Miles.
They look at each other. “No idea,” says Miles.
“Give it a month,” says Alex.
They start laughing and the reporter moves onto the next celebrity.
Sometimes Alex wants to hold Miles’ hand and sometimes he’s even brave enough to do so. Sometimes Miles looks at him, acknowledging it. Sometimes Miles smiles and looks down. Sometimes he doesn’t look at Alex at all. But every single time, Miles squeezes his hand.
They meet in Sainsbury two days before Christmas, of all places and of all times. Alex drops his bag of crisps and throws his arms around Miles. “I was just thinking of calling you.”
“Me too,” says Miles. He lets go of Alex, smiling hugely. “I hadn’t heard from you in a couple of days, thought you might be dead.”
“I won’t do it again, promise,” says Alex. It’d been a couple of months. He can’t stop from smiling either. “God, man, didn’t expect to see you here. What are you doing in Sheffield? Why are you dressed like that?”
“I had to look to good to pick up my aunt in Doncaster,” says Miles. He touches his collar and Alex straightens it. “And then my mum calls me up when we’re coming back and tells me to get another chicken.” He shrugs, unable to stop smiling. “My aunt says she’s got a friend in Sheffield so we might as well visit her on the way, having to get a chicken and all.”
“You didn’t mention that you had a friend in Sheffield too?” Alex says. He knocks Miles on the side of his head. They’re standing too close as usual, as if the past couple of years had passed only with the two of them at each other’s side. “You know you’re always welcome. My mum likes you more than I do.”
“Didn’t want to intrude in family affairs. If I’d known how popular I was, I’d have come round as a Christmas present.” Miles grins. “Tell her I say hello.”
“Come round and tell her yourself.”
They finish shopping together, taking twice as long as they should, buying half the things they need, and leaving only after Miles’ aunt calls him. It’s raining when they exit. Miles curses. “Forgot my umbrella in the car.”
“I’ll walk you,” says Alex. He waves his umbrella around, a huge blue thing that his dad lent him. “We can share.” He grins, or grins wider – he hasn’t really stopped grinning. “You can stand under my umbrella.”
“It’s just around the corner,” says Miles. Alex opens his umbrella and Miles steps close and they walk around the corner, singing Rihanna. They both transition from “Umbrella” to “SOS” without thinking about it and their arms brush against each other for the entirety of the wall, Miles keeping close to Alex under the umbrella.
“I’m here,” says Miles, stopping in front of a white house. His aunt and her friend stand on the doorstep under an umbrella. Alex and Miles wave to them. Miles turns to him and smiles, or maybe he never stopped smiling, Alex isn’t sure, and says, “Call me. I’ll call you.”
“I will,” says Alex. “You do the same. Call my mum too. But call me first.”
“I will,” says Miles. “Alex?”
“I want to make another album,” says Alex.
“I wrote that song about how I tried to kill myself when you died,” says Miles.
“Jesus, I told you not to do that!” Alex swings his grocery bags at Miles, hits his hip.
“I missed you,” says Miles, shrugging. He swings his grocery bag back at Alex. “We don’t have to put it on the album.”
“We aren’t,” says Alex. “Not as a b-side, not as a live-only song, not anything, ever, no.”
“I’m still going to play it for you,” says Miles. They are still standing too close. Maybe the past couple of years did pass with the two of them at each other’s side. “I’m going to show up at your door one night and serenade you.”
“I will call the police,” says Alex. He swings his groceries at Miles again. “I will have you arrested.”
“You’ll bail me out though, right?”
“Yeah, of course. That’d be great publicity.”
They stand in the rain, smiling at each other.
“Miles,” calls his aunt, “Miles, we’ve got to go.”
They smile at her and then at each other. “Well, Happy Christmas,” says Miles.
“You too,” says Alex.
All at once, Alex takes his hand, Miles kisses his cheek, they hit their heads and Alex drops his groceries. They laugh and Miles picks up Alex’s grocery bag and hands it to him. He squeezes Alex’s hand. “Let’s write some songs, yeah? Let’s take on the world all over again.”
“We already are,” says Alex. He can’t stop smiling.