Author's Note: Still not mine! Oh, and thankyou to Squidgy for "pot, kettle, noir" - if I hadn't heard you say it, I never would have believed it ...
… wasn't his real name.
He refused to tell anyone what he was really called, even Scott, with whom he'd struck up an immediate friendship, much to Roger's irritation. After all, it was Roger who'd – it's fine, Roger, no-one's listening, you can be as dramatic as you like – struck the blow that set Carmen free. It was Roger's room that Carmen came creeping into at three in the morning, hair all spiky and eyes enormous and terrified, because he'd had another nightmare. It was Roger who sat up all night with him and talked him through his panic, calmed him down, stopped him shaking … made him disgusting French toast (with sugar ALL over it, ugh ugh ugh) and wrapped him up in a blanket and stroked his cheek with the tip of one finger as Carmen finally drifted back to sleep …
At one point during the conversation, Roger had asked, super-casually, about the name. Because no-one, surely, would actually name their son Carmen, would they? The owner of said name merely smiled, and said, "It's been my name for as long as I can remember … I've been called Carmen so long I doubt I'd know my real name if it was up in lights!" Which told Roger nothing at all. He hadn't had the heart to nag; maybe, one day, when they were … closer … Carmen would let Roger in on the big secret. But still … it was infuriating.
And speaking of all things infuriating, about that first-night sleeping arrangement …
Not Roger's idea, if he was being brutally honest. He'd had this vision, in the taxi, of them all arriving home, of Kevin and Bryan conveniently disappearing, of himself mixing Carmen a drink (poor boy had to be in need of alcohol, the night he'd just had) and then … well, not to put too fine a point on it, and then leading him into the bedroom, peeling him out of all that wonderful tight black … and –
Damn the fact that it took half a journey across town – not even that long, really – for Roger's feelings for Carmen to change from weirdly protective to ragingly lustful. He went in the space of a second from wanting to look after the boy, from wanting to be a sort of mentor, to just plain wanting him – desperately, embarrassingly (especially in the close confines of a taxi) wanting him. He wasn't even Roger's type, which was particularly annoying … not that Roger had ever really had a 'type'. Unless you counted 'breathing'.
Damn bloody Bryan, Mister Suddenly Sensitive, who had announced, the second they got through the door, "Carmen, dear … you sit down, have a drink with Kev and Roger here, and I'll see if I can sort you out, bed-wise … as it were!" He'd laughed and winked, and trotted off to make up the spare room.
It was a week and a half since the Night of Bar-Room Heroics, now – TEN DAYS, if you were counting, which Roger very much was, thank you kindly – and nothing had changed. Bed-wise, anyway. Which was the only change Roger was interested in at the moment. Carmen still slept in the spare room, just along the corridor from Roger's. But he still had nightmares. Still felt too afraid to leave the apartment on his own, just in case …
Still came to Roger in the wee small hours of the morning, curling up in Roger's bed, in Roger's arms, but …
Damn it. Double, triple, hell's-bells-and-buckets-of-blood damn it.
Frustration, thy name is Roger …
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… was compulsively tidy. He straightened all the pictures. He seemed to know when one of them was off-centre by even the tiniest amount. Stuck in the apartment on his own when Roger and the others were off at rehearsals, it would seem he got bored very quickly. And when he got bored, he got restless. And when he got restless, he got nervy, fidgety, like a very tightly-wound spring. And when he got nervy, he tidied stuff. Straightened stuff. Dusted, polished, rearranged, you name it …
It drove Roger nuts.
"What happened to the pillows?" Roger demanded, staring in disbelief at the couch. There had been, when he left for work earlier that morning, four lilac pillows arranged in artful disarray – well, all right, lying around all over the place – and now there were …
They were bright pink. Bright pink crushed velvet. With frills. They were –
"OooooOOOHHHH, they're gorgeous!"
Roger sighed. Bryan and Kevin, right on cue as always, were peering over his shoulder. Actually, Bryan was peering over his shoulder; Kevin was more-or-less under his armpit.
"Carmen!" Kevin shrieked, as Carmen popped out of the kitchen with a proud little smile on his face, "Did you do this?"
The little smile turned into a beam. Roger fought the urge to shade his eyes. "No, Kev darling, it was the fairies." Carmen teased. He practically floated over to the couch and stroked one of the pillows reverently. Kev 'darling', thought Roger, trying not to feel jealous and failing miserably, since when has it been Kev 'darling'?! He scowled at the pillows.
"Of course it was me," Carmen continued, looking as happy as Roger had ever seen him, "Who else would it be? I found some material at the back of – um – oh." He stopped, blushing furiously.
"At the back of – " Roger, realising suddenly why that pink crushed velvet looked so familiar, gasped in horror. "No! Carmen, you didn't, tell me you didn't – "
"I couldn't resist it … "
"I was going to show you – look, come and see! You'll love it, I promise, I absolutely swear!" He clapped his hands together in delight, like a child, six or seven times in a quick-fire burst of enthusiasm. Roger couldn't help smiling, and allowed Carmen to grab his hand and tow him up the stairs. Outside the door to Roger's room, they paused, Carmen seeming suddenly shy again.
"Now, see … I really didn't mean to go snooping around in your room, Roger, I honestly, honestly didn't … but I'd done everything else, and I thought I'd – I wanted to – you know, to say thankyou for – well, go and see. Go on!" He gave Roger a little shove towards the door.
It was like a miracle, Roger thought dazedly. He couldn't remember ever seeing his room this neat – it was almost as if it had never been used! Carmen was hovering nervously in the doorway, so Roger turned and flashed a great big smile at him to show his gratitude, and Carmen visibly relaxed. Well, a bit. Sort of. He let go his death grip on the doorframe, anyway, which Roger took as a kind of positive sign.
And the closet was – good grief. Oh my stars. Oh my stars and garters.
It was organised. Categorized. Colour-coded. The shoes were all in pairs. And the bundle of bright pink crushed velvet that had been lying in a heap somewhere at the back of it all – well, that was now in pride of place on one of the shelves … shelves? Roger couldn't remember ever seeing shelves in there before. Maybe they'd just been hidden under all the piles of stuff … despite Carmen's many obvious talents, putting up shelves just didn't seem likely.
Expecting to find the boy still lurking in the doorway, Roger backed out of the closet and smack into Carmen. Who was softer than you'd expect, given all the angles … "Oof! Sorry!" Carmen yelped, as if it was his fault. Which it sort of was. "Just wanted to see what you think!"
"What do I – what do I think?" Roger regained his balance and his ability to breathe. "I think you're a little genius, darling boy, that's what I think! But, Carmen, that pink stuff – "
Roger sighed, and went to sit on the bed, patting the space next to him. Carmen obediently sat down too, a little warily. "I'm not angry," Roger began, because it looked very much as though Carmen was expecting to be yelled at, "it's just that … that stuff wasn't exactly … destined to become pillows, if you see what I mean."
"Oh." Carmen deflated. Then thought about it for a second or two. "So what was it destined to become, then?"
"The Choreographer's Ball … " Roger began, and Carmen's whole face lit up. Before he could start bouncing again, Roger hastily continued, " … is next month. They have a costume contest and – "
"But you're not a choreographer, surely, that's why Scott – "
"I'm a director, darling, which is to say, a visionary genius, which is practically the same thing," Roger said grandly. "And thus far, tragically, I have failed to win the wretched contest, but I had hoped that this year – "
"This year you'll win," Carmen said firmly.
"Well, yes, darling, but – "
"Because this year you have me!"
"Er … "
"I can make you a costume that'll send them all into fits of absolute envy,"Carmen said, turning slightly so that he was staring Roger straight in the face. It was a little unnerving. "I can make you the belle of the ball. I can, Roger, I really can, I promise!"
"I don't doubt it for a second, Carmen love, but – "
"Please?" Carmen took hold of both Roger's shoulders, his fingers digging in almost hard enough to hurt. "Please, please, please, please, please – " With each "please" he shook Roger, just a little bit.
Roger decided he quite liked it.
"Oh, all right," he said, trying to make it sound like he was giving in reluctantly, but not really succeeding. "I'll talk to Kevin, I'm sure he'll understand. He usually does my frock for me, you see … "
Carmen nodded. "I wouldn't want to upset anyone," he said, frowning slightly, and then brightening again. "I'll talk to him, too," he went on, "I'm sure I can persuade him … "
Roger wasn't sure he liked the idea of Carmen persuading anyone, let alone Kevin. Carmen was … well, Carmen was his. He belonged to Roger and Roger alone … trouble was, Roger had never even so much as kissed him, although they'd been living together now for … heavens, it was over a month! Already!
Well, only one way to fix that, isn't there, Roger thought. Actions speak louder than words and all that … He raised his hands, slowly, deliberately – didn't want to make any sudden movements, Carmen was twitchy enough already, no point in just jumping on him – well, actually, there'd be quite a lot of point in jumping on him, but – keep calm, Roger, you're doing fine. He framed Carmen's face between his palms, running one thumb along the boy's lower lip. Carmen swallowed nervously, but didn't try and pull away, which Roger decided was definite progress.
He leant closer, pressed his lips very, very gently against Carmen's. And again. And a third time, a little harder, then he drew back. For a moment, Carmen looked like a very young boy on the verge of sleep; his cheeks were flushed deep pink, his eyes heavy-lidded, glittering, almost feverish, his long lashes making spidery shadows on his skin. He swayed where he sat, and for a second Roger thought he was going to fall, but then he opened his eyes again, and looked at Roger more directly than anyone ever had. He smiled, and cupped one hand softly to the back of Roger's head, twisting his fingers into the older man's hair.
I'm falling, Roger thought dumbly, somewhere in the middle of the most wonderful kiss he'd ever had, I'm lost. He heard himself make a strange moaning sound, deep in the back of his throat, as Carmen's tongue performed some sort of amazing slow spiral, over and under and around ... Where on earth did you learn to kiss like that?!
"So." It could have been hours, days, weeks later. Roger felt dizzy. "So, we'd, um, better go back downstairs, I suppose, have a word with Kevin about the Ball … "
"Right, yes … " Apparently Roger wasn't the only one feeling somewhat giddy. Carmen got as far as the doorway before losing his balance completely, clutching at Roger for support. "Oops! Getting clumsy in my old age … Roger? Darling?"
Roger wanted to dance. He called me darling! He did!
"You still haven't told me – who were you planning on going as? To the Ball?"
"Oh!" Roger felt his cheeks go red. "As a matter of fact … I was going to go as Elizabeth the First. Queen of England, you know, big ruffle, great big skirt, one of those wire thingies underneath, the whole kaboodle. And pearls."
Carmen's super-fast applause went on for at least half a minute this time. "Oh, my!" he squealed in utter delight, "Oh, that'll be just perfect, and all in that wonderful pink, too … Oh, Roger, I promise you, after this, you'll be the talk of the town! Your name will be on everyone's lips!" He took a quick little step forwards and planted one sweet kiss on Roger's mouth. "Especially mine," he added softly.
: : : : :
… was, Roger decided, ever-so-slightly insane. But it took one to know one.
He was growing in confidence every day; you could literally see it. It was like Roger's companionship, Roger's belief in him – hell, Roger's love – had set something free. His gestures had got bigger. There were times, now, when he almost seemed to be dancing, waving his arms around all over the place, when all he was actually doing was asking you if you'd like a cup of tea ...
He had apparently decided, somewhere along the line, that giving certain words a sort of half-French pronounciation would sound terribly impressive. Chic, or something. Roger hadn't even really noticed it, to begin with, but one afternoon he'd overheard Scott accusing Carmen of excessive flouncing – Carmen was, at the time, making a grand entrance down the stairs into the living room, trailing one hand languidly behind him like some sort of silent-era movie diva, so Scott's point was kind of valid – and Carmen's response had been to open his eyes very wide, and exclaim, "Oooh! Pot, kettle, noir, darling!" – and the word 'pot' had come out with a French-style silent 't', pot, to rhyme with snow ...
He did it sometimes with names, too.
And he didn't stop the grand entrances, either. Quite the opposite, in fact; he had taken to making grand exits, too.
Roger kept finding himself watching Carmen, thinking to himself, look at him! Look what a wonderful, crazy, flamboyant creature you found, Roger, look what you did when you rescued him from that maniac Eric. Look what you did!
He felt so proud. And only slightly embarrassed.
Carmen had started going along with Roger and the others to rehearsals, the week after they won the costume contest at the Choreographer's Ball. Carmen had been right - everyone was talking about Roger's outfit. It wasn't necessarily complimentary, but still, they were talking, and that was what mattered. And what mattered even more was the way Roger had caught Carmen watching him as he chatted with some of the others that night. He was sitting unusually still, with a glass of champagne held forgotten in one hand. And he was staring across the room at Roger with a look of fierce pride and adoration that had made Roger feel ... a little strange, to be honest. Unsettled.
But in a good way. It had been a little like looking in a mirror. He decided he very much liked the Roger that he was, in Carmen's eyes.
"I'm going to change my name," he had announced, stumbling through the door of the bedroom at ridiculous o'clock the night - or rather, the morning - after the Ball. Carmen, Scott, Bryan and Kevin, all trying to squeeze themselves through the door behind him at the same time, and becoming hopelessly wedged, stopped their shoving and squealing and pinching, and stared.
"You're what, Roger?"
"You're drunk, Roger ... "
Roger turned to face them, still wearing his marvellous pink Elizabethan gown, although the ginger wig had long since disappeared. "Out!" he ordered, shoving Bryan, Kevin and Scott back into the hallway, and in the same breath, "In!" he said to Carmen, seizing his arm and pulling him from the crush of bodies. He heard giggles coming from the other three as he slammed the door in their smirking faces, and didn't care. "Going to change my name," he proclaimed, a little softer, and Carmen tilted his head to one side, listening intently. "As of tonight, to celebrate my conquest of the Choreographer's bloody Ball ... and all thanks to you, Carmen, my little genius, my darlingest boy - as of tonight, I shall be Roger ... Elizabeth ... DeBris!"
Carmen took a couple of steps nearer, and swept into a very impressive courtly bow. "Your majesty," he said elegantly, straightening up and grinning, "How may I be of service?"
Roger hiccupped. "Ooooh, well," he began, delightedly, but got no further. Carmen came closer still, his grin gone and his eyes suddenly on fire, and sank slowly to his knees. He lifted the edge of the enormous skirt and disappeared beneath it, at which point Roger's mind shut down completely, and went gloriously, shatteringly blank.
After that, it seemed rather ridiculous to leave him alone in the apartment for whole days at a time. Ridiculous to deliberately create Carmen-less hours. And so Roger decided he needed an assistant. Someone to run errands, someone to organise those things that needed organising. Someone to make sure Roger remembered appointments, someone to make telephone calls, someone to ... well, to do whatever Roger needed doing, basically.
At first he'd felt a little strange, giving orders, however fondly phrased; but Carmen had seemed so utterly delighted to be able to help, so happy to be useful, so willing to do ... well, to do whatever Roger needed doing. Whatever Roger needed.
Which was simple, really – all Roger needed, these days, was Carmen. These days ... and more importantly, these nights.
Whatever Roger needed ...
The two of them had become one person, without really noticing it happening. But gradually Roger had come to realise that people hardly ever said his name on its own any more – Roger no longer existed; he was Rogerandcarmen instead. Or even Carmenandroger. He'd even picked up Carmen's overexaggerated way of moving – or was it that Carmen had adopted Roger's flamboyant gestures instead? Neither of them knew any more. They worked together, it was as simple as that. They worked, they clicked, they just ... flowed. They didn't make any sense without the other. It seemed that Roger was somehow Carmen's creation just as Carmen was Roger's.
Scott, watching them sometimes – the way they had a private language all their own, little phrases, quotes, bits of silliness like mini dance routines – would shake his head in amusement, and declare it to be "a life perfectly choreographed".
Well, Roger thought, he ought to know.
And then he'd gone and risked it all in a moment of madness.
The play had been like a firework – bright and colourful and everyone had gone "oooooh" in delight ... but it had been short-lived. There'd been a last-night party, more of a wake, really, and everyone had got ridiculously drunk, uproariously drunk, fabulously, hideously drunk. Except for Carmen. Unusually for him, he'd been quiet and subdued all day, following Roger about like a shadow, trying his best to make the older man feel better; and Roger, depressed and angry and miserable but refusing to admit it, had begun to feel ... kind of trapped. Like he was a prisoner of Carmen's anxious gaze. And he started to resent it. To resent the way Carmen knew what he was going to say before he even said it. The way Carmen could predict his every move.
It made him want to ... to yell at the boy, to hurt him, anything, just to get him to leave him the hell alone, just for a second ...
So he had. Carmen had jerked back as if he'd been struck, gone white and rushed out of the room.
And the second Roger was alone, he wanted Carmen back. Wanted him to hold out his arms in that sweet way he had, to stroke Roger's cheek, to make everything all right again.
Roger, furious, had downed another couple of glasses of bubbly, and gone to find an empty room to sulk in. Can't live with him, can't live without him, why is it that all those old cliches are so irritating but so bloody true?
And then there was this dancer ...
Roger vaguely remembered him from the pre-Carmen days, months back. He could remember discussing him, in fact, the night he'd first met Carmen – oh, for Gloria's sake, Roger, stop thinking his name every damn second!
The dancer was a little like Carmen, if not quite so tall. But he was slim enough and wiry enough that Roger could pretend, maybe, if he closed his eyes ...
"Roger ... " the dancer began, slipping in through the door and closing it behind him, "I'm – "
Roger reached out and placed a fingertip on the dancer's lips. Felt them curve up into a smile. "No," he said, numbly, "no. Don't talk ... "
Staggering back through his own front door the morning after the party, with a headache like no headache he'd ever had before, he'd whispered a very feeble "Hello, boys," to Kevin, Scott and Bryan, who had left the party shortly after Carmen had run out. They were slumped in various stages of recovery on the couch, and as he passed them, heading up the stairs to his room, he thought he heard one of them say, "Uh, Roger – " but he wasn't really listening properly.
Pushing open the bedroom door – and even that took a huge effort, his arms seemed to have turned to lead – at first he saw nothing but darkness. But then his eyes adjusted to the lack of light, and he could make out the hunched shape under the sheets.
Carmen was curled on the bed like a little kid, one hand suspiciously close to his mouth; Roger could easily believe he'd been sucking his thumb. He didn't wake as Roger tiptoed over and sat beside him, but he shifted slightly in his sleep, a little frown line between his brows. He looked exhausted.
"Shit," Roger muttered, feeling like the worst kind of heartless bastard. "Oh, shit, Carmen."
He kicked off his shoes, pulled the sheet back as gently as he could, and slid down to lie with his chest pressed against Carmen's back, wrapping the boy in his arms. Carmen stirred and murmured something unintelligible, but he didn't wake. Roger closed his eyes, felt a tear slide down to catch in the corner of his mouth, hot and wet and guilty as sin.
Can't live with him ... can't live without him.
Won't live without him.
They had slept right through that day; through most of the following night.
And the next morning, it was almost as if nothing had ever happened. Carmen and Roger's strange little dance carried on, as it would continue to go on, down the years and into forever; the tempo changing occasionally, sometimes whirling and manic, sometimes slow and soft and sad; sometimes the music would falter and stumble, but the two of them would always manage, somehow, to regain their balance and pick up the steps again.
Scott had been right, Roger thought. It was a life perfectly choreographed.
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