THE STANDOFF

A good, old-fashioned tale of peril.

This story takes place after the events of 'Flash Pop' (Season 8).

-x0x-

Chapter One

"Okay – I'm just gonna come right out and say it. Not your best idea, Messer," Don Flack muttered.

"Not my idea at all." Danny's teeth clacked together unexpectedly as a little tremor shook him. Man, it was cold tonight… He shoved his hands into his pockets and tried to be stoic about the whole thing.

"Lindsay?" Flack persisted.

"Of course Lindsay. Who is, I'd like to point out, all toasty and warm at the lab right now, taking my shift. Doin' me a 'favour'… which means I'm in her debt for this, so count yourself lucky."

Together, in silence, they stared at the figure who stumped along in front of them, his shoulders hunched, his breath rising into the cold night air like a gloomy little cloud around his head.

"She told you to drag Adam out when it's real clear he'd rather be anywhere but?"

"You called it." Danny gave a rueful grin and raised his voice an octave. "'Not good for him to be alone,' she said. And you know my wife can be very persuasive."

Flack grinned too, clearly tickled by Danny's impersonation of his other half. "Lindsay doesn't understand the manly art of sulking?"

"Oh, she understands it. She just has no time for… Adam! Wait up! We're here, okay?" Cutting their conversation short, he skipped ahead and managed to snag Adam's coat with his numb fingers.

"Danny – what?" From the look on Adam's face, it was clear that he had been miles away.

You're not even here with us, are you? Danny thought, far from immune to the irony. "Down the steps. Leporello's. Warmth, beer, music, other people…. Beer…"

"You said that already," his friend told him gravely, with a subtle gleam in his eye that said Fun Adam was still in there somewhere.

The dark circles around his eyes, though – that was a different matter.

Danny reconsidered. "You wanna go home?" he offered quietly. "You're not enjoying this, are you?"

"What, and drag Flack away?" Adam forced a smile and pointed down the steps, to where the tail of Flack's coat was already disappearing through the doorway of the bar. A pleasant wave of heat and light spilled out to greet them, laughter in its wake. "Sounds cosy, okay? I'm fine," he added, slapping Danny on the arm. "Let's do this. First round's on me - you got two at the last place."

And he hurried down the steps, darting this way and that to avoid the icy patches.

"Cosy?" Danny raised an eyebrow. "I can do cosy." Not high on his list of top ten words to describe the perfect night on the town – not even on the same page, in fact - but hey! at least Adam was talking again. That was good, right?

Couple more beers down his throat and I'm gonna regret that thought, he predicted wryly, bringing up the rear as the two men followed Don Flack into the warmth of Leporello's Bar.

-x0x-

Marvin Unger knew his place in life. But why, he wondered gloomily, did his place always have to be so uncomfortable? Take the back seat of Tig's car, for example. Tig made him ride in the back every time – for ballast, he said, with a smug grin that Marvin tried to puzzle out. Since Tig's car was tiny and Marvin was huge, he guessed the joke was on him and he thought he understood it. He could see how very entertaining it must be for Tig and his clever friends to watch him bend and squeeze his way into the narrow space behind them, with his knees pressed up against his chest and his curly hair brushing the ceiling…

That's my place. I'm the butt-end; always at the back. Marvin sighed and stuck a finger in his mouth, tugging on a hangnail with his teeth.

"Stop that," said a firm voice from the driver's seat.

"Sorry, Tig," Marvin mumbled around his finger. Every day, the same reminder. He spat the tiny piece of nail out of the window and let the finger drop from his mouth. A string of drool was still attached. He watched in fascination as it snapped apart and landed on his sweater. Like a snail's been crawling on my belly…

"Why d'you bring him along?" In the passenger seat, right in front of him, Niall was buzzing with energy. Marvin could spend hours – even days - in blissful stillness, safe in the peace and quiet of his own room. He didn't think Niall knew how to be still. It bothered him, whenever he tried to think about it.

Clearly, Marvin bothered Niall as well.

At least Tig stood up for him. "Why did I bring the giant? The one who looks like he could eat two heavyweights for breakfast and still have room to gnaw on the ref?"

"That's disgusting." Niall sniggered. "Made your point, though. Nice one."

"I don't eat people," Marvin protested mildly. Tig was always joking, and he didn't mind it really.

Niall's snigger turned into a nasty laugh. Tig smacked him on the shoulder. "Stop that," he said for the second time, as though Niall's laughter was a bad habit, just like Marvin's nail-biting. "Leave my brother be."

"Oh, what, like you do?"

If moods were a colour, Marvin thought to himself, then this one would be green; bright green like the colour of Tig's flashing eyes.

"My brother," Tig said tightly. "My responsibility."

"Whatever." Keen to escape, Niall opened the car door. "I need a drink."

"That's not the plan." Tig loved his plans. Marvin often wished he was clever enough to come up with a brilliant scheme that would wow his brother. He also wished for rocket boots, a cloak of invisibility and the power to read minds. Impossible things – but dreaming about them was fun.

"It's my plan. Drink first. We gotta blend in, right? Catch 'em unawares, you said, not burst through the door, guns blazing, like Butch 'n' Sundance." Niall had a fondness for cowboy movies. Marvin preferred cartoons. The violence was much the same, but no one ever got hurt or killed for real in a cartoon, not even Wile E. Coyote, his favourite character. Butch and Sundance – he remembered that one. Niall and Tig had made him sit through it but he didn't like the ending, not one bit. He liked the bicycle, though… And the song. How did that go..?

"Raindrops keep fallin' on my head," he sang happily, under his breath.

"Are you kiddin' me?" Niall was all the way out of the car by now, and he wrenched the back door open. "Get out. Get out, you halfwit."

Slam! Bang! Marvin felt rather than saw his brother's reaction. Faster than thought, Tig was out of the car and Niall was in his grip, spread-eagled on the dirty silver hood. No words passed between them. Marvin shuddered. A silent Tig was a dangerous Tig; he knew that all too well.

So did Niall. "I went… I went too far," he choked at last, spitting out words as though they were sharp little fish bones. "Sorry, Tig."

"And?" Tig's voice was calm, as though this was no more than a pleasant conversation between friends. Poking his head out of the window, Marvin watched with growing concern as poor Niall's face turned scarlet, his throat bulging in Tig's stranglehold.

"I can't… I… Leggo…"

Tig loosened his grip. "And?" he repeated softly.

"And Marvin. Sorry…" Niall reached up and rubbed his neck as Tig backed off, full of smug satisfaction. "You know me, right, buddy? My mouth runs away with me sometimes. I don't mean anythin' by it, not really…" He offered the garbled apology to Marvin, as instructed, but his gaze never left Tig's face.

Marvin eased himself out of the car. "S'okay," he said to Niall cheerfully. Ambling over, he reached out and offered an arm to the smaller man, lifting him off the hood with ease and setting him back on his feet. Just in time, he resisted the urge to straighten Niall's wrinkled clothing. "Better now?"

Tig answered for his friend. "Oh, we're golden." Lifting the back of his jacket momentarily, he checked the gun that was hidden in his waistband. A tight smile hooked the corner of his mouth and pulled it upwards. "Shall we?"

"Yes, Tig," they both said fervently.

"First drink's on you, right Niall? It's your 'plan', after all, so you can put your money where your mouth is…"

"Yes, Tig." There was a glint in Niall's eye but only Marvin saw it, since Tig was already walking away from the two of them, expecting them to follow like a couple of dogs at his heels...

Follow him down the street to Leporello's Bar.

-x0x-

A/N: Dun dun duhhhhh...