|madeleine talks to animals at parties. (lunarwild) wrote in monte_logs,|
@ 2012-06-15 17:46:00
|Entry tags:||anubis, artemis, ~complete|
Characters: Maddie lunarwild and Aidan gravedirt
Date/Time: St. Patty's Day (BACKDATE THE FUCK OUTTA THIS)
Location: Pub pub pub
Warnings: Drinking! Years of frustration!
Summary: Two best friends get together for a few drinks.
Normally, Maddie Greenberg would not find herself in a pub at 6:00 PM, neatly drinking her second frothy offering of Guinness and grinning at her companion with the disarmingly cheerful countenance of one slightly inebriated – even if it was a Saturday. But it was not just any Saturday; no, it was March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, and a good excuse to start drinking even before lunch, though Maddie hadn’t indulged to that extent. Instead, she had ventured to Camelot Pub with one Aidan Graveley, the first time in nearly a week that she had agreed to see him. Mostly out of a strange want to see him, despite her inexplicable annoyance at his burgeoning relationship with Aria. A relationship that, should she be reminded of it, would immediately sour her evening. As it was, they had been cozied up in a private booth in a corner of the pub, splitting buffalo wings long-gone and now just drinking to their hearts’ content. She tried to pretend she had not pointedly ignored him for the previous week and acted as if nothing had happened, but Maddie already had the mindset that once they walked out of the pub, she would not be paying him any attention – after all, she thought sullenly, he was busy, wasn’t he, being an RA and a law student and –
Fuck. She was acting like a freaking child over this. Normally, she didn’t give a damn who Aidan dated. And really, if he had acted this way were she to bring up the fact she was dating someone, she would probably have at him in her usual straightforward, Maddie way. But for some reason, she was compelled to be passive-aggressive as she had never been before, let the feelings of annoyance simmer and smoke beneath the surface of the best-friend-smile, the pretty laugh. No, she did not address the fact that she had, for once, taken pains with her appearance; that she had, to Camilla’s great joy, let her dress her up as she liked to, and that when she had walked into Camelot pub, it was a fairly stylish and well-coiffed Maddie who sidled in, rather than going with her usual outfit of jeans and a plain t-shirt, a hoodie if it was cold. She prided herself on leaving looking good to other girls, both a comment on her own self-confidence (which was alarmingly high, all things considering, though it took a sharp dive when it came to looks; that, she brushed off with the blase attitude of one who could not be bothered, though it was admittedly a sore point for her that she was not the most beautiful one of them all) and what she considered her priorities: her success, her happiness, being her. And yet, here she was in a Camilla-approved outfit. She was practically a sell-out, even if she had blessedly been able to talk Camilla out of squeezing her into a dress.
She wanted to ask him how his spring break had been, but at the same time, she didn’t want to know at all. Instead, she settled for looking off to the side, as if she were disinterested in Aidan. “You think it’d be more crowded,” she said after a moment. “Guess people are at the other pubs in town. Or at parties. Or something.” Needless, useless talk, the sort that Maddie made to strangers. She had to try again; after all, nothing was wrong, nothing at all, even if she was avoiding him. She turned her head towards him, grinning again. “Hey, we should take shots, hmm? Aidan? Come on, buy me a shot, and I’ll buy the next round, right? We’re going to get undergrad crazy tonight.” At that, she began to move out of the booth, reaching to grab his hand and yank him out behind her. “Come on, please?”
It was a testament to their friendship, how easily they were able to segue back into the old, familiar dynamic despite a stilted week or two apart. Aidan had been leaning back in the booth, arms splayed over the backs of their seats; when it was just the two of them, even when the conversation faltered, the silence wasn’t as unbearable as it could be.
Yet it was a testament to their friendship, how strained and strange this had been and how even the slightest hint of awkwardness became glaringly, awfully conspicuous: a great beast on the radar, a hulking wrongness that raised his hackles. Her outfit had been the first telltale warning of the night, and when he first saw Maddie in the doorway of the pub, a compliment had withered and died on his lips. Not that she didn’t look good (quite the contrary), and not that flattery was alien to them – but he had dressed down for the occasion and the man suddenly felt conspicuous about it. She looked even nicer than usual; he looked just like normal average Aidan. There had been an odd seesawing effect at work.
“Shots?” Aidan echoed, and gave an arch of the eyebrow. But at the mention of ‘undergrad crazy’, he chuckled, even as she caught his hand and pulled – and it seemed the most natural thing in the world to follow after like a dog with its leash gently yanked, gamely tagging along. Because there was one thing you could say for Anubis: he might be cautious, he might be wary and calculating beyond all measure, but he tended to say ‘yes’ to everything at least once. So – “Yes,” Aidan said, “Alright. What’s your poison, Maddie? Vodka? Tequila? Absinthe? … Jägermeister, Goldschläger?”
A ghost of a grin flickered on his lips upon naming the German liquor. It was a litany, a list, an arsenal. An array of weapons with which to get one irrevocably trashed.
(Which, naturally, begged the question why get trashed? when going undergrad crazy had never been an item in their repertoire; alcohol-numbing benders were not a staple of their diet; but he knew the answer and therefore refused to ask the question. The night hadn’t gone quite as smoothly as expected so far. They’d talked about the weather for approximately 3 and a half minutes, at one point. Social lubrication was necessary.)
“All of it,” Maddie replied automatically. Having reached the bar, she propped her elbows up on the table and slid onto a barstool – otherwise, her tiny height had her looking like a toddler at the big kid’s table. It would take a moment to get the bartender’s attention – after all, everyone was here at St. Patty’s, drawn to the attraction of a pub which felt appropriate for the Irish holiday – which meant more minutes of conversation until she could get her tongue and jaw loosened. “I don’t know anything about any of those, to be honest, but I’m going to pick anyways,” she said after a moment. “How about the Jäger? I’ve always felt like I was a frat boy, deep down inside, and now I can actualize this feeling and live it out tonight. What say you?”
She didn’t bother waiting for his agreement – like Maddie did everything, she simply rushed ahead, waving a hand to grab the bartender’s attention. He came over slowly, taking his time, apparently unwilling to extricate himself from a bevy of drunk women at the other end of the bar who laughed uproariously at whatever joke he had made and threw down dollar bills as if their wallets were being freed from the extra weight, which made Maddie roll her eyes (primarily for Aidan’s enjoyment). When he finally reached them, she ordered quickly and settled down on her seat, turning around to once again look at her friend.
It was the first moment she had actually taken to look at him since they got here; the lighting up at the bar was a bit better than at the booths, and she realized now that she had been avoiding eye contact with Aidan up until that moment. Artemis the huntress rarely looked at things in the eye, after all – looking in the eyes was a challenge and it kept the target at bay and wary. But it was only a flicker of charged contact before her eyes darted down to stare at the wooden counter, chewing on the corner of her lip. Whatever she was going to say had died on her lips.
Only a moment, and the two shots were given, as well as two huge glasses of cheap bud light.
“I didn’t order bombs,” Maddie said, looking up at the bartender.
He took a moment and glanced at Aidan, as if catching his eye – like they were privy to some grand boys’ secret, which made Maddie’s hair stand up on end and if she had been a lesser creature, given into an annoyed snarl because she hated being left out of things based on stupid male privilege – before responding. “Consider this one on the house,” he said after a moment. “Looks like you two are going to need it.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Maddie muttered, looking up back at Aidan’s face (but not his eyes). “He’s kind of a dick, isn’t he?”
He hadn’t intended to exchange a significant look with the bartender; he’d simply noticed that the server seemed quiet, thoughtful, sympathetic even, and before Aidan could process what had just happened, the glasses were scraping across the counter and the bartender had retreated. Aidan was left lingering, watching after the man as he turned and, with an almost cursory swipe of a washcloth, swept down the bar and left them to it. Back to the giggling gaggle of girls and the drone of exaggeratedly Irish background music. Celtic punk. It sounded like Flogging Molly, probably. That side of the bar was much, much less stilted than this one.
Aidan’s hand was resting around the chilled, dripping edges of the beer, and he tried to meet Maddie’s eyes. It had never been like this before.
“Possibly not a dick,” he said. Just perceptive, like most bartenders. “I mean, we got free drinks out of it, didn’t we? And I’ve always meant to try a bomb.” He lifted his shotglass carefully, delicately, as if handling a literal explosive; the dark, woody liquid sloshed around inside the glass, almost milling over the edge.
He hovered over the beer. “Bottom’s up?”
“Bottom’s up,” Maddie said; she couldn’t help but grin as she balanced the shot glass precariously on the edge of her glass before tipping it and its contents into the Jäger, which responded with a huge froth upwards that had Maddie scrambling to drink it before it dripped onto the counter. Jäger tasted like licorice and fennel and something else, almost thick and syrupy in consistency, but mixed with the beer, it gave it a kick and a bite that she found she didn’t entirely mind. She was never very good at chugging, but she managed to down the beer and shot in a normal amount of time, triumphantly slamming the empty glass down, the shot glass inside clinking.
That hadn’t been enough, of course – even with two beers in her belly, Maddie needed to ensure that her tongue was loosened to the point of being comfortable, and though the Jäger had untied some of her tighter knots, she could still feel something strange in the air. Perhaps, she reflected, it was the dim lighting of the bar. It made looking at Aidan awfully difficult, his shadowy features blending into a general face where smears of darkness meant certain things – a nose, the line of his mouth, his eyes – and she blinked at him, trying to focus her eyes, trying to see him better.
“That was pretty good,” she commented, realizing then that she had been staring. Again, the eyes darted downwards, the forthright huntress turned meek in the face of her noble hound. “Ah, I think, I’ll just have one more drink and then we can go back? Do you want anything? I’m feeling generous.” It’d be easier to talk if he were drunk as well, and she felt a little more like a frat boy than she would have liked, plying someone of the opposite gender with drinks – but, she argued to herself, her intentions were noble.
The bartender came back, as if he had been expecting it, and Maddie could swear a smile ghosted his lips before he resumed his stalwart countenance. “Whiskey sour for me, please,” she commented, “and whatever he wants, too. Put it on my tab, please?” She handed over her card to the bartender to leave for the moment, waiting patiently for him to come back with her drink and whatever Aidan deigned to order – if he had. She was too preoccupied with her thoughts to really note if he had, and her thoughts were rotating around what, exactly, Aidan had done during spring break with Aria. The unasked questions gnawed at her brain.
Again, the drinks were prepared and given to their respective customer, slid down the counter (what was this, Coyote Ugly?). Maddie looked up again to catch another meaningful glance from the bartender directed towards Aidan.
“Do you know this guy?” she asked before taking a sip of her drink.
“We’re best friends.” Aidan smiled – smirked, almost – behind his fresh new drink. “Confession of the night: It was never you. He and I met back in Brooklyn and it’s never been the same since.” The bartender was long gone, but the jokes seemed to strain after him, tendrils snaking out into the rest of the smoky pub. Aidan already missed the stranger’s presence. The logistics of ordering and receiving drinks gave them something to do and something to focus on.
The new drink had been ordered appropriate to theme, and was called a ‘Black Irish’: Irish whiskey, Kahlua, a maraschino cherry, and ice. The sweet coffee liqueur bristled at the back of his throat as he swigged the cocktail – Kahlua had been the start of it all so many months ago, hadn’t it? the Black Dog milkshake Aria named after him, the first they’d ever spoken – but the faster he drank, the sooner the memories seemed to ripple off him and back to the ether, where they belonged.
Another mixed drink would be the third, Aidan decided. Beer was too filling and took too long.
(Why was speed of the essence?)
But all around them was the endless, noisy chatter of bar patrons chatting each other up and having a good time, and when he sniffed, breathed in, Aidan could smell the tang of various spilled drinks everywhere. Seeping into the woodwork of the Camelot until they had soaked into the foundations, into the wooden beams holding up the roof, trampled into the floorboards beneath them. Years upon years of laidback drinking drummed into the establishment’s bones.
So why the fuck couldn’t they be laidback?
“I think–” Aidan was testing out the words and how they formed on his tongue, and he was pleasantly surprised to see that they were loosening already. “–I think he thinks we’re on a date.”
It took a beat for it to register (because now the drink is beginning to settle in warmly into her stomach and now Maddie reclined easily against the bar, the stiffness of her upright posture forgotten in favor of something a bit more comfortable – it’s almost like she’s melting as her alcohol blood level rises, one br going down in favor of another), but when it did, Maddie did not make her usual reaction of utter disbelief and the-lady-doth-protest-too-much. Instead, she mused on it a bit. She took another sip of her drink.
“That’s funny,” she commented loosely, throwing a glance at the bartender. He didn’t look back at her. Asshole. “But I mean, I guess it makes sense. Look at us. Two young people in a bar, drinking drinks, looking good. I mean, what’s to stop us from doing anything, you know?” Had she noted the suggestion in her speech, she didn’t mention it; instead, she continued on, aided by an additional long sip from her whiskey sour, “It’s been happening to us all our lives. But oh, given that he’s your best friend,” and here she sent Aidan a cursory glance, setting her drink down primly in a way totally uncharacteristic of her, “he would know that.”
She made a long-suffering sigh. “But you know,” she said after a moment, “we could go along with it. Since he already thinks we’re on a date, maybe he’ll give us extra nice service if he thinks it’ll help you out. And I mean, we are getting undergrad crazy tonight, so the more free drinks in us, the better.” She was speaking from a place she didn’t often visit, which was where a drunk and much more liberal Maddie resided, quietly waiting for these moments where she got to shine with her stupid and possibly-insensitive suggestions, though ‘stupid’ and ‘possibly-insensitive’ didn’t occur to her so much as ‘funny haha’ and ‘this is a great idea to fuck around with someone’. She was comfortably tipsy now, verging on drunk, and she was grinning at him openly, without the usual tension hiding in the corners of her mouth where she tucked the worries of each and every word they exchanged.
“Besides,” and here, she grinned at him, taking a hold of his coat and tugging him a little closer to her. “You look good tonight. I bet half the girls in this bar are incredibly jealous that I’m hanging out with you, dude. It’s totally crazy.”
The hands tightening on his coat were like a shock to his system, a dose of ice rolling down his spine, and Aidan shifted atop the bar stool, trying to maintain his balance even as he slid closer towards her. They’d been drunk together more times than he could count. But not like this. Always fun, but never verging into this kind of flirtatious-playful. That was for other people –
His hand slipped, then rested on her arm. Then darted back to the counter, only to find that there wasn’t another drink conveniently waiting – Omniscient Bartender, where are you when you’re needed?
“I don’t look good,” he said. “You look good. I barely thought about what I was wearing before I went tearing out the door earlier tonight.” He knew exactly the last few times he’d fretted over costume when it came to meeting Madeleine Greenberg: it was back when they were teenagers, and their reunion coffee back in New York. He’d eventually taught himself to stop agonising over it, because agonising over something as simple as wardrobe meant that he was expecting something else from her. Lingering in the friend zone with sinister ulterior motives in hand. Which he hadn’t, and certainly hoped he never would – so he’d stopped trying quite so hard. Settled back into simply being her best friend.
Fast forward a few years, though, and it seems perhaps he shouldn’t have given up so obediently.
“I don’t know how far we can milk the free drinks, Maddie.” The naysayer, as usual: that stick up Aidan’s ass would need a couple more drinks before it could be pried loose. “It’s his job, after all. I don’t know how this sort of profession works but I imagine it’s taken out of his paycheck by the end of the night. After inventory. Taking inventory.” The train of thought wasn’t derailed entirely, but it was shaking in its rails, rattling the screws on the track. “Because how many drinks can save a disastrous date, anyway, and it isn’t his duty to be some sort of avenging angel for people struggling with social interaction. I mean, I’m already impressed he gave us the beers. Typically that’s saved for attractive young women. You could probably do a better job on your own, pretending to be single.”
It was warm in here; there was the expanding crowd, the lungs breathing in this room and heating up the air. His free hand went for the buttons of his jacket and finally unclasped them, shrugging out of its comfortable weight and draping it over a nearby burnished metal bar protruding from the lower counter.
“Well, I tried,” Maddie said, pulling her hands back, retreating and folding neatly into herself; if a person were an accordion, if she could pull back the flirtatious friendliness she had tentatively put out. She had, hadn’t she? Placed herself into Camilla’s eager hands and walked out of it a prettier, more put-together young woman – none of her typical sweats, none of the usual smear of lip balm and just walking out the door. Hell, she had even offered her face up as a canvas: the pale pink blush on her cheekbones, the mascara that coaxed her pale lashes into visibility, the slightest hint of cranberry on her lips. Maybe it had been a stupid idea to follow the impulse, if he obviously hadn’t put in to the same kind of effort – though, as always, he looked neat, nice, much better than she did when she rolled out of her own apartment. Maybe that came with Europe. He had said she looked good, but the compliment didn’t hit her. She was too focused on the fact she had tried when he hadn’t.
Why had she even tried? Why had that impulse even come over her?
(She didn’t want to think about those sort of questions; with her mind so muddy, like stomping through swampy waters and each thought having to be pulled up from the dreg, she didn’t want to think too deeply about anything.)
“And anyways,” she continued on, her hands now busying themselves with her drink again now that his coat had been relinquished and put away to the side. How had she not noticed the lines of his arms before? Her eyes traced them the way her fingers would not. “I am single, so I don’t see why I would be pretending. I can do whatever I want with whoever I want. No one’s got a single claim to me right now.” Clarification, though for who, she wasn’t sure. She finished the last of her drink, placing the empty glass full of melting ice cubes on the counter. “And this attractive young woman wants another round, so get ready.”
It only took a moment – as if expecting them, the bartender meandered over, the hint of a smile twitching under his moustache. Maddie waited a moment to see if he would sneak a glance at Aidan, but he seemed entirely focused on her – for once.
“Two shots of tequila,” Maddie said, “on Greenberg. Thanks.”
She looked at Aidan impishly, and now her hand was on his arm. “You’re taking this one with me, okay?” Her head was swimming a bit now: two beers, a Jägerbomb, a mixed drink, and now a final shot had done their intended job. That last shot would seal the deal for her, though she was much smaller than Aidan, so it was a question how he was measuring up. She decided to ask. “How are you feeling? Are you okay?”
“Why wouldn’t I be okay?” Aidan asked, as the armoury and accoutrements of tequila shots were handed over to their safekeeping: two glasses swilling with copper liquid, an innocuous-looking salt shaker, and two neatly-quartered pieces of a lime. His gaze had shifted to these tools of the trade, eyeing the assortment before them with some slight trepidation.
Tequila. It felt like ratcheting up the difficulty level, increasing the severity of the situation.
“I’m getting there, if that’s what you mean.” What ‘there’ was, on the other hand, seemed vague and undefined – drunk? or okay? When he reached out for his shot glass, Aidan had to pause and steady himself. His hand was shakier than he’d expected.
Did anyone have a claim on him? Not as such. Not as such, his mind said, because there had never been specific categories assigned to him and Aria. They hadn’t noted a relationship status, no particular possessive mark on the other.
“I don’t think she’s my girlfriend,” he finally said. They’d spent several days at the lodge together, had made out in front of the fire – but they’d slept in the same bed and nothing had happened, because leave it to Aidan goddamned Graveley to whisk a girl off to a romantic ski trip but then not know what to do with her afterwards. Or how to broach the subject of taking their relationship to the next level.
So Aidan’s fingers tightened around the shot glass and he leaned closer to the bar. Without looking at his companion, he licked the arch of his hand and sprinkled the salt, then held it out to Madeleine. Olive branch. Salt shaker. Quite alike, if you closed your eyes in a pub and squinted very, very hard.
Maddie licked the web of skin between her index finger and thumb. She took the salt shaker. She shook some salt on the wet skin. She looked up at Aidan, wondering for a moment what he meant – I don’t think she’s my girlfriend. Well, he thought she wasn’t, but he wasn’t entirely sure? What sort of relationship was that?
Honestly, she didn’t really want to know the answer to that one. Her prerogative was singular the present moment: become really drunk, enjoy herself silly. Already her vision was a bit blurry, Aidan a softened image cast in bar lighting and the beautifying haze of drunkenness. Had he always looked so nice? Like someone she could curl up against, like he might hold her hand. They’d never been those types of friends, the kind who sometimes verged into a kind of flirtatious tiptoe into the grey zone between something and nothing – no, it wasn’t a flirtatious tiptoe for them so much as a strange ignorance of where the boundaries lay. Everything but the physicality.
Save for that one night, she suddenly remembered, when he had tucked his arms securely around her when they nestled together for sleep. Chinese food. The fog. And not speaking, not saying a word after it happened, though her hand had found its way into his during the night and interlaced its fingers with his, tucking her head under his chin and finding that the warmth of his body was more a comfort than a distraction, than something that disquieted her. She fell asleep quickly. She woke up still in his arms.
“Cheers,” she said immediately, quelling the thought – she licked the cusp of her hand, downed the shot, and bit into the lime wedge, trying to take the edge off of the burning alcohol. Now that was it: she knew that much. She put the small glass down, taking a moment for her stomach to settle and absorb the alcohol. She felt it coursing through her now, present in the gentle fuzziness of her mind, the way her tongue felt loosened and her mood greatly improved. No dwelling on the awkwardness, though she knew it still existed, probably – but it didn’t have to be acknowledged anymore, replaced instead with the conviviality of shared inebriation.
“So no girlfriend,” she said. “I guess we’re both single. Hey! That’s great, isn’t it?” Here Maddie leaned in close, like a conspirator trying to hatch a plan with a comrade, her hand resting now on his knee (when had it gotten there? but she needed it for balance, she was tipping so). “Do you want to know a secret? I dressed up for you. I never do that. Isn’t that stupid?” It was, if he didn’t know: stupid that she had given into that preconceived notion of dressing up for a man was what agitated her the most (and the unshared sentiment – he hadn’t done the same for her!). “Christ” and here her voice dropped a bit below the din of the bar, a chuckle creeping into the corners of her words, “I even put on make-up for you. I’m a total sell-out.”
His spine felt like it was spasming, tying itself into knots, going abruptly rigid as he attempted to look nonchalant, so absolutely bloody nonchalant and blasé and unaffected – but Aidan felt like a statue, an inflexible puppet, limbs all wooden and heavy and awkward. There were so many questions he could ask, and so many answers hovering on the edge of his mind. He knew her too well. She hated dressing up for a man, hated the act of performative aesthetics for a male’s benefit. Hated putting herself on show as if she were an object. So why would she dress up for him, apart from the obvious?
Was he imagining this?
You’re too late, Aidan wanted to say, even as the tequila warmed his throat and chest, a radiant heat that suffused his body and eventually led to the blush that marked his pale cheeks. Thank god the room was dimly-lit; his embarrassment wasn’t visible.
“What makes it selling out? You’re not trying to impress me. We’re friends. You already know I–” His head was pounding, and the rest of the bar seemed to have retreated from view (including, yes, the ever-helpful bartender); there was nothing else but her hand on his thigh, her laughter in his ears. I what. I what?
Aidan set the hollowed-out shell of the lime aside, primly placing it into his empty shotglass. Small actions. Small stabilising movements.
“What?” Her voice was like a little dagger, sharp enough to be edging in through the muffled, tinkling din of the bar. Glasses clinking, and here and there, a laugh bubbled up like a fountain, cutting through the unremarkable cacophony, their ears having adjusted to the mix of conversation, bar music, and glasses. Maddie hadn’t realized how the noise had fallen away until that precise moment, Aidan’s voice nearly boomed in her ear. She moved her head drowsily, like some sort of animal rousing itself from sleep, a waking slumber.
Her hand: warm on his thigh. Her mouth nearly on his ear.
“You what?” she asked, and here, her voice had dropped to what it must have been when she was Artemis, back then, evoking: cool, babbling streams and then the little whistle of wind; and then the deep, dark depths of green forests. Her fingers curled around his thigh. Her mouth on the shell of his ear. She thought: how strange that I’m doing all these things, but the alcohol numbed her mind a bit, cognitive thinking becoming more and more difficult. She couldn’t analyze anything right now, carefully measure what their relationship was teetering on.
Their proximity was electric. Almost painful. Not what he’d expected when he’d stepped out tonight; not when his mind was still buzzing from the trip with Aria, not when he was still wondering where he stood with her. On top of questioning, for years, where he stood with Madeleine. There were and more and more questions and not a single convenient answer.
“–I need to go.” The answer came short and fast, as if wrenched out of his throat. He withdrew. Shifted back in his bar stool, as far as he could go, and Aidan plucked his coat from where it hung. His fingers dug into the material, preparing to shrug back into it and don it like a suit of armour.
“Or can we just... get out of here, or something?” He’d slipped back to his feet. He was tall; he could still look Maddie in the eye, perched delicately on the edge of her seat as she was, a miniature queen on her uncomfortable throne. His heart pounded in his throat. He shouldn’t have had all those drinks. The thrum of music in the background was starting to get too loud, the press of people too much. Aidan needed fresh air. A clear head. To clear his mind.
His hand was resting on her arm, fingers loosely wrapped around her. Then some other decision seemed to tip and realign itself, and Aidan found himself saying “No, or – actually, I should just go.”
Get out of here. Clear your head. He leaned forward to press a quick and hurried kiss goodbye to her cheek, already on his feet and ready to shoulder his way through the crowd and leave, claw his way outside.
Maddie watched him go, fingers curled around the edge of her seat while he took one step and then two steps and three and then he was almost into the crowd, a head bobbing amongst them. She got up them moving quickly, little nymph-like movements that wove her in and out of the crowd, like a thread going through a piece of fabric. He was stitched out to her, as he always: easily identifiable through sheer force of presence, as if her body recognized the feel of his. Directed her towards it.
So it didn’t take much effort for her to reach them once he found his way outside, blinking out at what was a darker night – past sundown now, populated with throngs of merrymaking undergrads cheering a toast to good, ol’ St. Patty. No green for them: they stuck out like sore thongs amongst the other barhoppers.
“Where are you going?” she called out to him, and she took a small sequence of steps to grab his hand, tugging him to the side of the building next to her. “Aidan! Come on, pal.” She tugged him closer to her, hoping he’d oblige; too many people meant that it was almost louder out here than inside the bar, and she needed him to hear her. “It’s just me. Maddie. Where do you think you’re going?”
Outside, even with the rowdy groups scattered throughout the small, cobblestoned street – Montenegro was depressingly small, sometimes – Aidan still felt better than in the crush indoors. There was open sky above his head, a fresh breeze tousling his hair and filling his lungs. He could see stars. He could see the hulking shadow of the mountain scrawled against the clouds, and somehow, that was a comfort.
“Just... out,” he said, vaguely. “I wasn’t–”
Wasn’t what? The inability to express himself clearly and concisely was starting to take a toll; there was some sort of wall between his head and his heart and his tongue, and he felt like tearing it down brick-by-brick. His hand tightened around hers. “It’s not ‘just you’ because you’re not acting like yourself, Madeleine. You can’t call me ‘pal’ and ‘buddy’ and– and everything else, and still expect me to– Unless I’m imagining things but I don’t think I’m imagining the fact that you are acting strange tonight, Madeleine, and I just don’t know what to make of it. Is this a date? Was it supposed to be?”
He’d spun, twisting his body in the course of her hunting him down – a cornered quarry – but now he was facing her, shoulders hunched in his jacket and jutting forward. She had him in her sights; she was in his.
“I don’t know what you’re trying to tell me.”
He had her there: she didn’t know what she was trying to tell him either. The notion of a date was too much for her – she fell back, shoulders no longer bunched up near her ears and her hand still in his, fingers interlaced, heartbeat in her hand.
“I didn’t mean to –,” but she had, so she started again, tried different words, “I’m sorry. I just – I don’t know either, Aidan.” And here she was genuinely apologetic, taking a step forward, allowing the vulnerability to momentarily shine through: the naked moment when the huntress put down her bow and arrow and allowed herself to move, defenseless, towards him. Her heart was poised. Her eyes, searching. She could meet his gaze now, the dark sheen of his eyes familiar even in the shadows of the building.
People moved past them, but she felt like they were suspended from the same time frame. Different.
“I just want to do what feels right,” she said suddenly. “Doesn’t this feel like something we’re supposed to do? I always –,” and again, the words dropped in favor of something else, “I don’t know what to do.” Another step forward, her head tilted up – and surprisingly, no expectations but the idea that something was happening, though she couldn’t put her finger on what, exactly, it was that was shifting the bedrock beneath them. Her other hand found his neck and a thumb stroked along the line of his jaw. “Is this okay? Can we just let things happen and not think about it tonight?”
Five years too late. Three months too late.
The alcohol was blurring his thoughts, stirring them into a vague drifting haze; his hand was resting on hers which was resting on his jaw. He could smell her – and that familiar prickling scent of fear in the air, the nervousness rankling off both of them. Dulled. Blunted by the alcohol, liquid courage steaming in their veins. Five years too late. Who gave a shit. Might as well. Why not.
It’s what he wanted.
He kissed her.