[ Sky – Master Post ]
Title: Just Before the Dawn
Characters: Arkady, Severen, Betty
Warnings: Vomit and totally inappropriate commentary
Notes: So, this was supposed to have been funny. Yeah, so much for that. It takes place about three days after "We Live…", and it’s fairly Arkady-centric. Lots of talk about relationships and people. And no, I still haven’t managed to hook up Betty and Arkady.
No one ever took Arkady for a whiner, at a glance. It took a few years for that part of him to really sink in, but fifteen years after they first shook hands in that dingy bar, Severen knew him inside and out — knew more of his insides than he’d ever asked to meet, in fact. And so, the first words out of Severen’s mouth were hardly shocking.
"Fucking shit, Evan, shut your snivelling face-hole or it’ll be full of my fist, before you ever get near a beer. Yes, I know you’ve been in the hospital for the last three days. I was there. … Grit your teeth." He lifted Arkady out of the wheelchair and heaved him into the cab. "And keep your goddamn foot up, so I don’t have to drag your ass back here, in an hour."
Lifting Arkady’s ankles, to park his ass under them, Severen leaned forward to give the cabbie Betty’s address. "You’re staying with Betty, so I don’t kill you in your sleep."
"You wouldn’t kill me. You hate having your work invalidated." Arkady grinned, saucily, still inappropriately halfwitted from side-effects of the antibiotics.
"There are things in this world that even you don’t need to overhear, and right now, I intend to go home and do them. Forcefully, wholeheartedly, and in the wholly wrong order." Severen breathed deeply, trying to settle himself with the thought. "And your mouth would buy you a world of pain, even from downstairs."
Arkady gaped in simmering envy. "I hate you so much, right now. You’re going to get laid, and I’m going to spend a night with Little Miss Brownies. And really, as friggin’ hot as that could be, she’s my best friend. And I’m not allowed to fuck."
Severen smirked and snorted.
"Seriously. They told me that if I did anything more interesting than sit on my ass with my foot up, there was a pretty good chance I’d never feel about half that foot again."
"At least you’ve got your head on straight. You know, Barry wouldn’t let that get in his way, and we’d all get screwed," Severen grumbled.
"Are you kidding me? I’m creative enough to keep my foot attached." Arkady grinned, dizzily. "I just don’t think Liz would go for that sort of thing."
"You’re right. She wouldn’t. Because she loves you, Evan." Severen squinted sideways. "She’s no exception to the general desire for you to not end up with permanent nerve damage. And how do you not get beaten for calling her Liz?"
"I’ve known her for more years than you, Sev. She was Liz the first time she kissed me, and she’ll be Liz the last time she kicks my ass. It’s not that she’s stopped beating me, it’s just that it never has the intended effect."
"If you said what I think you just said, I strongly advise you to stop speaking, at once." Severen grimaced and stared out the window. "For your continued health and my sanity."
"I didn’t say anything. You were the English teacher. I insinuated something." Arkady rested the back of his head against the window, looking giddily nauseated. "Less talking, now. The words keep moving. Like boats, I mean. No, like … I’m pretty sure we’re not on the water."
Severen looked across the cab in dawning horror. "Oh, shit, Arkady. Don’t. Not yet. We’re almost there."
"Have you ever been on a boat? If it’s like this, I don’t think I want to." Arkady’s knuckles whitened right along with his face, as he squeezed the fabric of his pants in a desperate grab for the edges of reality. "I’m not okay, Sev."
"Yeah, I know. Keep your stomach in. We’ll be there in a sec." Severen squirmed under Arkady’s legs, trying to fish the cash out of his pocket to pay the cabbie. "If he pukes in here, I’ll give you an extra twenty. I don’t think he’s going to, though. … … please, god…"
"You’re better than the usual drunks. At least you know it’s going to make a mess," the cabbie reassured him. "I worry for your friend, though. He seems very sick."
"You picked us up at the hospital. Sick is the least of his problems."
The cabbie laughed and pulled up to the kerb. "Twenty-three fifty."
"Thirty. Keep it." Severen tossed the bills over the seat and scrambled out of the cab. "Hold on, Arkady. Hold on."
It all happened too fast. Arkady grabbed Severen’s shoulders, made it out of the cab, and threw up on both of them. Severen kicked the door shut and waved the cabbie off. Arkady groaned and puked again, looking dazed and frightened.
"Sorry. It’s not –" This time he turned his head, and most of it hit Betty’s spotless lawn, as they came up the walk.
"Keep breathing. Don’t choke." Severen sounded uncannily calm as he kicked Betty’s door. "Come on, Betty. We’ve got problems."
The door swung open, and Betty stopped, mid-smile, a pan of brownies in one oven-gloved hand. "Hall on the right. On your left. Put him in the bathtub, and then come back here and tell me what happened."
"Try to get that shirt off," Severen advised, lowering Arkady into the empty bathtub. "I’ve got to talk to Betty, and then we’ll see what we can do."
Arkady nodded and gesticulated vaguely in the direction of the sink. "Mouthwash."
Severen set the bottle on the edge of the tub and dropped his own shirt into the sink. "I’ll be right back."
"Woo, shirtless!" Betty cheered, as he stepped back into the hall. "Is Evan going to live?"
"I think it’s the pills. It’s the same stuff they’ve been pumping through the IV, since he came in, but I’ve got a funny feeling his stomach doesn’t like it." Severen held onto his shoulder, covering his chest with one arm. "Can I borrow a shirt? I’m not good at practical when I’m not dressed."
"You need a shirt, he needs a glass of water, and you both need laundry done. Give me his discharge papers, and I’ll call the hospital. You worry about getting him comfortable and getting me the laundry." Betty held out her hand and Severen relaxed, pulling the papers out of his pocket and handing them over. There was a reason she handled the business end of everything, and once again, Severen was grateful for her sense and determination.
"I can do the –"
"No, you can’t. You touch my washer and I’ll break your pretty face. Where’s your shirt?"
"In the sink. So’s Arkady’s," Severen muttered, backing into the bathroom.
"Don’t piss her off, Sev. She’ll get out the whips," Arkady joked, weakly, struggling to figure out if he’d actually hit his pants.
"You’re not so sick I won’t beat your ass, too, Evan," Betty growled, picking up the two shirts in a towel. "Give me your pants. You got your left hip."
"Come on, Liz! I can’t just take my pants off." Arkady looked pleadingly at Betty. "You know that."
"Now, Evan. Give me your pants." Betty stood in the doorway, hands on her hips, looking suspiciously like Severen’s mother, but all in black. Severen backed into the towel rack, reflexively.
"Sev, go get me a glass of water," Arkady pleaded. "Really. Right now."
Severen raised his eyebrow and looked between his two friends, suspiciously, before he threw his hands up and left the room. A few shouted curses later, Betty passed the kitchen carrying a towel full of laundry.
"Don’t go in there, for a minute. You still need a shirt. He needs pants." She shook her head and loaded the washer, calling back, "I don’t know when the hell he developed a sense of modesty. It’s not like you’ve never seen him pantsless. It’s not like I’ve never seen him pantsless."
"I think he’s trying very hard to forget that the three of us were in naked pictures together." Severen drank the glass of water he was holding and filled it again. "I know I try to avoid the thought."
"I will never understand the two of you. Two good-looking men, all the same parts. It’s not like you’ve got any reason to get hung up on each other." Betty crooked her finger at Severen and walked toward the back bedroom. "I think I have some of Barry’s clothes from the last time he got out of rehab. Tell me it’s still just the white horse, these days?"
"White horse on a snowy mountain, last I checked," Severen sighed, accepting a ratty flannel shirt. "Evan’s going to outlive him, at this rate."
"Evan’s going to outlive you, punkin’," Betty said, with a dangerous smile, as she headed back toward the bathroom with a pair of pyjama pants.
"He’s supposed to outlive me. I’m older than both of you. I’ll be rather irritated if he doesn’t, but at this rate, the percentages look like shit."
"The percentages are going to look a lot better if you don’t stop talking," she called back into the hall.
"Don’t threaten Severen, Liz. He’s bitchy when he worries." There was a long pause, followed by a squeak. "Yes, ma’am. My fault. Shutting up."
Betty walked out with a bright smile and patted Severen on the shoulder. "He’s all yours, honey. Make sure he lives long enough for me to come back with an answer."
Severen eyed her cautiously, as she walked back to the kitchen to call the hospital. He closed the bathroom door and sat on the floor with his back to it. "And Paul? How is he not dead?"
"She doesn’t love him like she loves us, man. We matter. He’s … shit, he’s nobody. He gets hit by a car, and yeah, it’ll ruin her day, but he’s not even people, to her. None of them are." Arkady slouched against the porcelain, feet up around the faucet. "She’s hard-love like that because people always fail her. Including me, for the record. She just expects failure and treats people like the incompetent twats they are. Also means she yells at Lir less that she does at me, but I’m the only one of us she’ll take you apart over. Talk all the shit you want about Barry, and she won’t even blink. You start on me, and she’ll eat your eyes."
"Yeah, I noticed that last part. I wasn’t saying anything other than the obvious, either." Severen leaned forward, putting the long-forgotten glass of water on the edge of the tub. "And you’re right. I am bitchy when I worry. Ask Sin. I have no idea how he keeps up that angelic compassion all the fucking time."
"I don’t know what I’d do with it. How do you not just sink into guilty self-loathing?" Arkady poked at his leg and hissed in displeasure.
"Uh, Arkady? Evan? Look at me. Have you been paying attention?" A half-smile snuck across Severen’s face. "Guilty self-loathing is a default. I’m nobody. I’m some guy. I struggled through college to become a half-decent teacher, and then I met you guys, and coat-tailed my way to being rich and famous. I’m not pretty like you, talented like Betty, or smart like Sin. And I look like hell without my stage face on."
"And I’m just here because I’m pretty," Arkady shot back. "It’s always been about my face. I didn’t even go to college. You and Lir went to college, because you had time. I scraped my way through high school, with Betty patching up the worst of my mistakes. We were disgustingly popular, because we’re good looking, and she’s … I don’t want to say smart, because she’s not like you and Sin. She’s … practical. Sensible. Hard-assed. God, I was always the girl, of the two of us. Damsel in distress. I’ve always just been some lazy kid from a good family with a face that can stop traffic."
"Welcome to the brotherhood of losers." Severen slumped back, laying on the tile and looking at Arkady, between his knees. "We’re a fucking disaster area. Could be worse. We could be Barry."
"I have never had the clap," Arkady pointed out, "and, clearly, neither have you."
"That’s an act of god, given Sin’s proclivities for pretty young things." Severen rolled his eyes. "And we’ve never needed rehab — for anything."
"I’m a drunk, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not Barry. I seriously worry about that kid." Arkady shook his head and then groaned. "Okay, no sudden movements."
"I seriously worry about you. Fever?"
"Nah. Stomach’s killing me, though." Arkady sipped at the glass of water. His face froze. "Oh, shit."
With a high-pitched sound of disbelieving panic, Arkady emptied his stomach, again. Severen watched his abdominal muscles clench and crawl, as Arkady folded in half, gasping for breath between retches. This was a whole other level of bad. If there was one really practical thing Severen learned, in college, it was that water-triggered vomiting was serious trouble. He pulled himself up and opened the door.
"Betty! Betty, he’s throwing up water!"
"Eight hours," she shouted back, after a moment of low and angry chatter. "Don’t let him eat or drink for eight hours. Everything has to come out, before we put anything in."
"Evan? You going to make it for eight hours?"
Arkady’s head was still between his knees. The next round was lumpy black liquid. "Oh, god, no…" Another stream of it interrupted anything that he meant to say after that. He held up his hand to Severen — a motion to wait — and then a thumbs up. He could wait the eight hours, but something else was going on. Another sound of fear and frustration preceded what would have been the next round, if Arkady hadn’t been so sharply folded forward.
"Shit, shit, shit…" Severen pulled Arkady back. "Keep your feet up. I’m sorry for this."
Severen turned on the water, rinsing the worst of it down the drain and soaking the pants Arkady was wearing. "It’s going to keep going, until it’s out. You need a hair tie, and I need to get you turned around."
Betty came in, while Severen was searching the medicine chest for a rubberband. "I heard the water. What’s going on?"
"I think that was my large intestine attempting to use the emergency exit. Sev’s looking for something to put my hair back. It’s not over." Arkady was still folded in half, and he sounded spooked.
Betty opened a drawer and handed Sev an elastic. "Do what you have to. I want him alive when I get back from the pharmacy."
"Yeah. I know." Severen looked grim.
Betty pushed past him, to kneel beside the tub. "Evan, you fuck, don’t you dare die on me. What am I going to do without you there, reading my mind and talking shit? Jesus, Evan, I’ll die without you. Don’t you dare leave me."
"Liz, sweetie, I don’t think it’s actually possible to vomit internal organs. I’m not going to die from throwing up." Arkady laughed weakly. "You always said I was a pussy. It’s just me being a pussy again."
"I love you, Evan. You need to know that." She kissed his head and stood back up. "I’ll be right back. I have to get to the pharmacy, before they close. It’s a fucking Sunday, so they close at some completely stupid hour."
Betty swept out of the house, swift and unstoppable as a gale. In the bathroom, Arkady started to cry, and Severen quietly tried to tie back his friend’s hair.
"I hate when she does that," Arkady sniffled. "I’d say it’s like being gutted, but I still have the worst cramp. Twenty years later, she still does this to me."
"Come on, you can be a disaster area after you’re done voiding your entire digestive tract. Move with me. I’m going to lay you down, on your side, but you need to end up with your face near the drain, or this is going to be even uglier than it already is." Severen slowly moved Arkady’s knees, and Arkady followed, clumsily.
"I don’t want to see uglier than this. I don’t even want to see this," Arkady complained. "Why does this shit happen to me?"
"I dunno, maybe because you do stupid shit like stab yourself in the leg?"
"Okay, I walked into that one." Arkady lay down, with his bandaged leg propped on the edge of the tub. "Fuck thi –"
Severen was pretty sure that had to be the end of it. He’d never really thought about how much fit in thirty feet or so of intestine, but he was going to be really surprised if Arkady had anything left in him. Once the convulsions and pleas for mercy had slowed to retching and whining, he started to relax. He took Arkady’s hand and helped him sit, as the retching eased out into panting.
"Mouthwash." Arkady spit into the pool of vomit, next to him. "Towel."
Severen turned on the water and rinsed the tub, again, before handing over the mouthwash. "What towel is she not going to kill us for using?"
Arkady closed his eyes. "The one in the washer."
"Don’t fall over. I’ll be right back."
Severen returned to find Arkady laughing quietly to himself. He handed over the towel and raised an eyebrow, inquisitively.
"I’m half-naked, wet, and covered in vomit. I didn’t even get to go to a party, for this." Arkady wiped the last of the puke off himself. "Christ, I hate everything. I hate everything in the world, right now."
"Ooh. You win." Arkady sighed and dropped the towel into the tub, in a wet heap. "Man, don’t do this to me. Don’t leave me here. I love this girl to death, but I can’t be here. I can’t make her save me, again."
"What, because you can only dick me with your semi-suicidal fits?" Severen sat on the floor. "She’s been putting up with your shit forever. I get that. It’s why she’s so good at it. Do you see me leaving you with Lir? No. You’d give him an ulcer in the first twenty minutes. I’ve been at your bedside for three days, Arkady. I needed a shower before I left my house. Sin’s probably back to heartburn and diner food, by now. I love you. You’re like my little brother, but I need to take care of myself, too."
"If you ever repeat what I’m about to say, no one will ever find all the pieces of your body, Sebastian."
With a sharp intake of breath, Severen sat up straighter, cocking his head uncertainly. Arkady never used his real name. "My word until your death."
"Deal." Arkady nodded. "You know how people always talk about the ‘if only’? The one that got away? Yeah. She’s it. Except she didn’t get away. She’s still right here, making me brownies and breathing my air. I’ve followed her around like a fucking puppy for twenty fucking years. We get drunk, and she tells stories about her damn toys. I lie and tell her everything’s fine. She knows I’m lying — looks right through me, and I just keep drinking until she starts talking again. I don’t kiss and tell. What can I say? But she does. She tells me everything. I’m just another girl to her, except that’s not true, because she’s into girls. I’m safe. I’m family. She trusts me."
"You don’t just love her, you’re in love with her." Severen observed. "Shit, Evan, I’m not the one to ask. Sin’s the one to talk to, not me. He was crazy about me, and he just waited until I hunted him down and took him. You don’t even know. I had to insist. It was ridiculous."
"And you guys have been together since I was like ten."
"Hey, I’m not that old, fuck you very much. I’ve only got five years on you," Severen protested.
"Yeah, sorry. It just seems like such a generation thing. People don’t have relationships like that, any more. It’s not all fairytale romance, and nobody’s got the balls to stick with it. And here I am, just waiting to pick up another girl, so she can walk out on me, while I watch the woman I love get it on with our accountant. It’s sick." Arkady smirked. "And you wonder why I keep trying to off myself."
"When you put it like that …" Severen thought about it for a moment. "I still don’t get it. Maybe it’s the watching. Sin doesn’t tell me unless I ask. Sometimes, I come home to a girl in my house — a girl in our bed — but I get to kick her out. And then I get to be smug about it, because he’s always so happy to see me. And I don’t understand that, either, but I know it’s there, and it’s the best thing in my life. I come home from a tour, and I just want to touch everything I own and make sure it’s where I left it, and he’ll just be there, impatiently waiting for me to get to him."
"Christ, Sev, you’re a fucking barbarian." Arkady gaped in amused confusion. "I never took you for the ‘piss on it and make it mine’ type."
"And to think, after all these years, we still have surprises." Severen tipped his head. "So does Betty. Nevermind what she is telling you. What isn’t she telling you? What do you not know about her? Or, rather, what do you know that she’d never admit to, if you asked her, straight out?"
"Stuff that I’m not going to tell you," Arkady deadpanned.
"I don’t want to know. Don’t tell me. Just keep it handy." Severen winced at the thought of hearing the things Arkady knew about Betty. He knew about the sorts of things that only best friends know. "Now, what does she want? Why does she keep you around? What do you do that no-one else does? — Trust me, my entire relationship is built on one of those. — What can you do that she tends to prefer, historically? Show her that you can be what she wants, if you can find enough evidence that you’re it. Just be careful. You fuck this up, and she’s going to be pissed. I’ve heard it’s the kind of shit that can ruin a friendship. I got lucky."
"Is that how you scored Sin?"
"Ish. He was persistent and obnoxious at me, until I let him be my friend. Then some shit happened, and I moved in. Then some shit happened, and instead of flipping out, he made it right. Through all this, I watched him go out three to five nights a week, with random beautiful people, and come home sweaty and grinning, in the middle of the night. Then I got curious and demanded that he kiss me." Severen paused to laugh. "I’d never really understood kissing, before that. Thought it sounded disgusting."
Arkady interrupted. "Time out. Stop. How old were you?"
"Twenty-one. To the day. I was pretty drunk."
"I guess it never sank in…" Arkady eyed Severen in amazement. "He’s your first … everything."
"I don’t need anything else. I got it right, the first time. I don’t even want anything else." Severen snorted. "First and last and always, to swipe a line. I tried once — you remember. Didn’t get anywhere. I just wanted to see if I could figure out the appeal. Which, really, I can’t. People are difficult and irrational. Sin’s easy."
"Thanks. Really." Arkady stuck out his tongue.
"You stabbed yourself in the leg, bitched about it for three days, and then threw up on me. Yes, I mean you. Don’t do stupid things, and I won’t have to remind you of them." Severen smirked and rolled his eyes.
"You’re lucky you’re right, or I’d kick your ass."
"You’d have to be able to stand up, for that."
Arkady laughed dizzily, slumping against the tile. "Asshole. Don’t ever change. You’ve got the weirdest outlook, sometimes, but you always say what you see. How are you not dead?"
"Sin. I usually just let Sin do all the talking. Not to say I haven’t spoken for myself on more than one occasion, just that it has, on no less than three occasions, ended in my nose getting broken. I’m not allowed to have opinions in public places, unless I clear them with Sin or Betty, first, now that I have a million-dollar nose. Thought you’d noticed."
"I thought you’d just stopped talking to people because they were ‘revoltingly stupid’ or ‘undereducated primitives with atrophied brains’ or whatever the comment of the week is, this week."
"Nah, I just keep my loathing behind closed doors. I’ve pissed off the PR folks enough for the year." Severen shrugged and picked at the rug.
"It’s February, Sev," Arkady scoffed.
"I know." He looked up and grinned at Arkady.
Severen kept up the tally of things he probably shouldn’t have written to the record company, until Betty got back to find them both giggling like drunken schoolgirls. The bathroom door swung open and Severen covered his mouth, to hide the grin, while Arkady continued to wheeze between chuckles.
"Good to see you two are having fun," Betty grumbled, throwing the bottle of pills at Arkady. "Seven hours, then take one. You done throwing up?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I don’t think there’s anything left to throw up." Arkady looked up, apologetically.
"Help me get him into my bed, and then go home, Sev. You look worse than he does." Betty and tact were only related when they had to be.
"Your bed? Not the back room?" Severen got up and went to lift Arkady. "Also, you probably want to put these pants in the dryer."
"How is it that the two of you — You know what? Don’t tell me." Betty shook her head and held up a hand as Severen and Arkady squinted at each other in horror, at the implication. "Yes, my bed. The floor’s wood and there’s an attached bathroom. I just didn’t want to get more barf on my sheets than was necessary. You better be done, Evan."
"Yes, ma’am. No barfing on the sheets. Promise." Arkady grinned as Severen carried him down the hall.
"What we were talking about before? Don’t tell her until you’re better. You’ve gotta be on your feet, or she’ll never believe you," Severen advised, laying Arkady on the bed. "But, I know you can do it. She’s crazy about you."
"Nah, she’s just like that." Arkady grabbed Severen’s arm as he started to turn away. "Thanks, man. I’ll call you."
"Yeah, I know you will. Just don’t wait until you’re bleeding next time, dumbass." Severen hugged Betty and left, to catch a bus home. Arkady would be fine, he thought. Better than fine, in another month or two. All these years of suffering over a simple misunderstanding between two people who didn’t know they loved each other. People really were irrational and difficult.