The police do eventually turn up, followed by the army and people in hazmat suits.
They sit around for hours, waiting. No one’s really sure who’s in charge, because the police say they are, and the army says they are, and then the hazmat guys get a call, and join in the arguing. It’s all a bit confusing, but they really couldn’t care less; one of the soldiers gives them energy bars and water, and a hazmat woman has makeup wipes in her kit that gets rid of some of the blood, so really, they’re good for a while.
Eventually a copper approaches with a mobile, and asks them gently if they’d like to call anyone. It occurs to him that life outside Slaughterhouse is carrying on as normal, and his mum has no idea the school’s just blown up. Don answers for them all, because apparently it hasn’t occurred to anyone else either. “Er, yeah. Yeah, please, can we call our parents?”
She hands the mobile over, shushing one of the soldiers when he mutters about waiting for their commander or something, and protocol, but seriously, there’s no fucking protocol here. Clemsie calls her dad, or her dad’s secretary; Don doesn’t quite follow. Kay makes a quick call and leaves an answerphone message, then hands the mobile on. There’s a sticky moment when Wootton thinks he’s forgotten his mum’s number, the little idiot, but Hargreaves sorts him out.
Will is asleep, and Don hasn’t the heart to wake him yet, so he calls his mum too and hands the phone back, figures they’ll sort Will out later.
While they wait another thought occurs to him, and he looks round, checking that none of the adults are close enough to overhear before asking;
“Was there anyone else in the school?”
“Not from Xenephone,” Kay says with a shake of her head. “Too busy swotting to get into trouble.”
Clemsie nudges Smudger with her toe, who rouses enough to shake his head. “Rugby match against Eton this weekend,” which apparently means all the Olympus guys who weren’t being made gods headed off to that on their coaches.
Kay and Clemsie snort. “Not a chance,” Clemsie says. “We only stayed to- yah, no, just us.”
“And the dregs of Sparta,” Will adds, apparently awake now, “not that the whole house wasn’t scraping the school barrel already.”
It’s some comfort to know he didn’t accidentally kill anyone else.
An hour or so later Clemsie’s parents send a helicopter, because yeah, why not, and she bundles Smudger and Kay into the back before coming over.
“Text me, yah?” She gets a pen off a copper to put her number on the back of his hands, to message her from the phone that got blown up with everything else. She kisses him again, which is amazing, but the helicopter’s blades are moving, so he lets her go and moves them back out of the downdraft.
Not long after a Bentley and a Rolls arrive for Hargreaves and Wootton respectively. Don has to carry a sleeping Wootton over to the car, chauffeur holding the door for him while he does up the seatbelt. The cars purr off down the drive, leaving Don with Will, now wide awake and looking worse than he did before. They stand together and wave when Hargreaves leans out of the window to wave back, like he’s going home for half-term, the demented fucker.
Will’s other hand is wrapped tightly around Don’s own, and has been since Clemsie left, their fingers entangled. Don pulls him down to the grass again once the cars are out of sight, putting an arm around Will’s shoulders when he leans in.
It’s getting dark again when his mum turns up with an escort, her Renault surrounded by police Peugots and more army Land Rovers. They stop at the cordon that’s been set up, a way back from where they’re sitting, and she’s out of the car before one of the soldiers can pull the door fully open for her, shoving him out the way and heading over.
She starts yelling halfway across the distance and wraps him up in a hug still shouting, demanding to know what’s going on, what happened to the school, “I paid a lot of money to send him here and now look at it, it’s on fire! I’m going to-”
“Mum,” Don interrupts, bone weary and glad to see her, but honestly. “Not right now, yeah?”
She pulls back to look at him properly, takes in Will too, both still smeared with blood and brains and fuck knows what else, and takes a deep breath. “Right. Yeah. Sorry, love. You’re done with them, aren’t you?” She throws that at the nearest copper, doesn’t wait for an answer before heading back to the car.
“Good job I didn’t bring your dad,” she says, pulling the door open, and Don stops in his tracks, staring at her, because what the fuck. “Joke, love, it was a joke.”
“Not really in the mood, mum.” Behind them something else blows up, perfect fucking timing, and the police begin to herd each other a bit further away again. The one in charge makes noises about them staying, but his mum ignores them, chivvies them both into the car - because Will’s coming too, apparently, their fingers still entwined. Don doesn’t let go, just pushes Will into the backseat and climbs in after him, shuts the door on the sirens and distant bonfire.
They’re ten miles down the road before Don remembers that they haven’t called any of Will’s family, but by then it’s kind of too late.
Mum drives them home, alone in the front, foot almost to the floor, hurtling through the country lanes and then speeding down the motorway. She catches Don’s eye once, in the rearview mirror, and tries to smile reassuringly, but Will has tipped over to fall asleep with his head in Don’s lap, and he’s too busy wondering where to put his hands.
Home is home, familiar and unchanged. He’s got no idea what time it is, just that it’s pitch black again and he’s got his arm around Will’s waist, half holding him up as they go inside. Mum fusses at them until Don yawns so hard his jaw cracks, and she stops abruptly.
"Bed, love? I’ll sort the spare for- for your friend, won’t be a tick.” She’s off upstairs before Don can introduce her to Will, and for a long moment they stand in silence, swaying slightly with exhaustion.
“Shower?” Don says eventually. All he wants is to be clean and in his own bed, Sparta’s thin mattresses and shared dorms a fading memory. Beside him Will lifts his head, bleary eyed and still stinking of sweat and blood, his reply a fervent yes.
“Gods bless you, Donald Wallace,” Will says, coming out of the bathroom half an hour later. He’s too tall for any of Don’s pyjamas, but Mikey left some old joggers there that fit well enough, and an old baggy t-shirt finishes the job. Don’s already showered, scrubbed himself almost raw getting the shit off himself, and he’s got plans to burn their uniforms in the morning.
He doesn’t bother with the spare room, despite his mum making noises about pillows and airing the place out, whatever the fuck that means. Instead he pulls Will into his own bed, not that he objects, and they’re out like lights before Don can finish pulling the duvet up.
Not unsurprisingly, they have nightmares. Don wakes up in a clammy sweat from dreams of beasts roaring, of them chasing him down an endless corridor until he hits a true dead end.
Will dreams of Clegg.
Don knows this because he wakes to Will’s hand on his arm, gripping like a drowning man, muttering things that make Don wish he’d had the chance to rip the psycho apart with his own bare hands. Instead he strokes a hand clumsily over Will’s forehead, tells him Clegg’s dead, they’re alive, they survived. In the end Will quiets and sleeps easier, and Don falls asleep again, hand still resting on Will’s shoulder.
They get a couple days grace before his mum starts making noises about finding a new school. He introduced her to Will properly when they woke up, about three in the afternoon, although by that point it was a bit unnecessary. Also he thinks she’s got the wrong idea, given she came in with tea on a tray and saw them cuddling each other in bed, but whatever.
“I just think,” she says, fussing about with sandwiches, “that the longer you’re out of school, the harder it’ll be to get back into the swing of things. And you’ve got exams coming up next year, you need to be thinking about those. I’ve been having a look, there’s some prospectuses on the way for you to have a look at.”
“Mum!” Don yelps, pointing at the tv. “The last one blew up!” On the news a camera obligingly zooms in, to show the still-burning rubble that used to be Slaughterhouse. “It nearly took out the ITV guy yesterday, for fuck’s sake.”
He gets told off for language, but she looks a bit uncertain, so maybe he’s nipped that in the bud.
Mostly they eat and sleep, talk about what happened. Not all of it; Will’s reluctant to dwell on his heroic last stand in the tunnel, and Don’s not all that keen on remembering Woody’s fate, but they chat. Twice official-looking people turn up at the house and interview them, Don’s mum sat in a corner protectively.
She has a bit of a meltdown when they bring out the photos of the beasts, and one of the officers has to go get her some whiskey, but once she’s had a good slug of it she settles down again. They answer everything mostly honestly; Will’s hand finds his when Don says no, no I’ve got no idea why it blew up, we were lucky to get out when we did, and Don holds it tightly.
“Why didn’t you tell me,” his mum demands afterwards, looking tearful.
“Mum!” He yelps when she smacks him round the back of the head for good measure. “Would you have believed us, if I’d come home saying there were bloody great monsters under the school that tried to eat us?”
She shouts at him some more and then goes to work, because her boss is cool, but not cool enough to let her have more than a few days off work just because her son’s home from boarding school early. It’s an exhausting morning.
The post comes late and there’s letter each for them, in envelopes made of thick, creamy paper, the Slaughterhouse crest stamped over the flap on the back. Don slits his open with a knife, Will peering over his shoulder to read it instead of opening his own.
Dear Donald, it begins, and goes on in neat type to advise him of a whole-school meeting, to be held at some fucking stately home, hosted by a dickhead with a title. Don scans it through and drops it on the kitchen table, glad his mum had to go back to work and isn’t there to coo over the fucking thing.
“Haven’t served out our sentences yet,” is Will’s dry comment, before becoming far more interested in pouring himself some tea.
“Have you even got any family,” Don asks through a mouthful of toast, because Will’s letter came here too, and it occurs to him now that Will still hasn’t rung anyone.
Will shrugs. “Somewhere, I assume, unless he’s blown his brains out at last.” He rolls his eyes at Don’s expression. “No mother and a filthy rich father, in the best tradition of useless upper class wastrels.”
He doesn’t elaborate, and Don doesn’t ask; he can read between the few lines.
Later on he does make a phone call, folding himself into a chair in the old office; Don waits outside, until he hears the handset click back into the receiver, and only then does he move away, heads back to the tv and pretends he was there the whole him. Will’s look when he joins him says he wasn’t that subtle.
They kill time with video games and naps, more interviews, until they’ve got one more night at home and then they’re off to the toff’s house. Will’s call resulted in a trunk of clothes arriving at their door, his suit hanging next to Don’s ready for the morning.
“You attacked him,” Will says, long after they should be asleep, quiet in the darkness. Don rolls over, until he’s facing Will’s direction, unable to see him but close enough to touch.
“Clegg.” Will sounds awed. “He was going to march you and I outside and shoot us both, but you stopped him.”
“Hargreaves shot him,” Don points out.
“I don’t care.” Will turns over in the dark. “I loathed him with every fibre of my being, but all I ever did was hang up a few ties. It was all I could do, but it wasn’t enough.”
“It was something,” Don says, and stays awake until Will’s breathing turns into the slow, steady rhythm of sleep.
The Earl of Whatever (Don can’t be fucked remembering where, despite his mum’s demands to tell her everything), is an old Slaughterian, obviously. He even has his last school uniform on display in the library, prefect badge pinned to the lapel. Most of the surviving students turn up, although Clemsie and Kay are absent.
“Hong Kong,” Smudger says cheerfully when he asks, as if it doesn’t make the bottom of Don’s stomach drop out. “Kay’s parents wanted her back for a bit, what with the school blowing up and all that, and sis went with her.”
“Oh,” Don says, “that’s nice.”
“Yah.” Smudger claps him on the shoulder, beams again, and wanders off to join some of his rugby mates, all wearing their team shirts and black armbands.
Will leans over his shoulder. “If you need to go have a wank and a cry, I’ll make your excuses.”
Prick. “Fuck off.”
Hargreaves, the little shit, pipes up when Will laughs. “How do you even begin to get over someone like Clemsie Lawrence?”
“Probably the same way you get a leg over,” Will says, draped over his shoulders and grinning: “You don’t.”
Don folds his arms and pretends ignore them.
Even Mr Houseman turns up, arm in a sling but mostly all there. Still a bit cracked over that woman, though, whoever she is. He greets the five of them heartily then starts crying, and has to be led off by the Earl’s housekeeper for a bracing cup of tea.
“Needs more than tea,” Will comments, and Hargreaves upends an imaginary bottle.
“Needs to grow some backbone,” Wootton says sagely, and they’re all staring at him when the meeting is called to order.
The Bat’s dead, but apparently there’s a board of trustees or something; Don doesn’t fucking know, really, just that a load of older, rich men sit at the front of the ballroom, racked out with lines of chairs for the students, and start discussing the future of the school.
“How can it have a fucking future,” he say afterwards, sat in the library. Hiding, really. “We blew it sky fucking high.”
“Slaughterhouse lives on, in the fine physical forms of its students,” Hargreaves intones in a fruity voice, from his perch halfway up a ladder. It’s not a bad impression of the Bat, actually. “Male and female,” he adds, before Kay can cough meaningfully, her and Clemsie facetiming them from Hong Kong, propped against a stack of books.
“They’ll all have had money invested in Slaughterhouse,” Clemsie says, “even if it wasn’t enough to stop the Bat selling out to the frackers.”
“The old boys club,” Will says, raising his glass. “No offence intended, Kay.”
“None taken.” Kay pulls a face. “Not a club I want to be in.”
Wootton pipes up. “What d’you think will happen?”
“Option one,” Hargreaves says from his perch. He holds up his hands and ticks the options off. “They find a new mausoleum, and reopen Slaughterhouse in all its dubious glory. Option two, they send us off somewhere else, presumably as fucking weird.”
“Option three, they leave us the hell alone,” Will says, bleak and bitter.
On the screen Clemsie and Kay share a look. Behind them Hong Kong sprawls out, five thousand miles away. “We probably won’t be back before then,” Clemsie says, and Kay nods. “Let us know where you end up, yah?"
It turns out to be option two. The old men, spooked by how publicly the fracking went wrong, throw money at the ex-Slaughterians and get them places at a couple of different schools. His mum has a slight meltdown and ends up sat on the living room floor surrounded by prospectuses, her laptop open, playing videos from each school on an endless loop while she makes notes.
“Is she alright,” Will leans in to whisper, sat together on the stairs watching. Don shakes his head.
“Not a fucking clue.”
They go, in the end, to Cunningdown Hall, mostly because Will finds it hilarious, and partly becasue that’s where everyone else is going. Don doesn’t have much opinion, beyond wanting to go to a normal fucking school, but he hasn’t got it in him to argue again. Where he and Will go the others follow, apparently; Hargreaves replies with agreement when Don texts him, which presumably goes for Wootton too, and Smudger sends back a string of happy emojis and a thumbs up, so that’s settled.
The first thing is that it’s Slaughterhouse 2.0, which means they have to get Wootton through another fucking school test. They all get waved through, older and wiser, but amazingly the kid passes this time; he’d have failed it again, except one of the prefects giving the test caught Don on his way to maths, and they had a chat.
“Incredible, really,” Hargreaves says with a frown. “Needed prompting on almost every answer, and he still passed.”
“Bloody miracle,” Don says, and definitely doesn’t think about a dark corridor, his hands shoved into soft hair. Across the room Padraig anoints Wootton with the sacred oil, and winks at him.
He’s not- not that , but a blowjob feels good whoever’s giving it, and besides, he feels responsible for Wootton now. The kid got them out of the labyrinth, it was the least he can do. Will slants him a sharp look, but Don ducks his head and helps lift Wootton above their heads, hopes he’s not fucking blushing.
The second thing is that their new head of house, Mr Perkins, pulls them out of Latin on the third day and takes them upstairs, past the floor with their dorm and to the level above, where the upper sixth all sleep.
“Mister Wallace, you and Mister Blake have been assigned a prefects room, in deference to your-” Perkins hesitates delicately, lowering his voice. “- your recent experiences. Follow me.”
A prefects room turns out to be a shared bedroom, study, and tiny bathroom, all connected. Perkins leaves them at the door, after handing over two keys and a list of things they’re not allowed. Will leans against the doorframe, looking like the smug little shit he is.
“How the fuck did you wrangle this?”
“I cried,” Will says, with an artful sniff and sly smile. “Come on, ducky.”
It’s a nice room, and he should shift his things up, but all Don can think about is his first day at Slaughterhouse, Will holding a gun and saying “ stuck in a box for two years, with me .”
Will, he realises, is a bit of a masochist.
This time they’re gods, or rather heroes, the second they arrive, because their school blew up.
After a week Don pauses outside the common room and hears Will say, carelessly, “with my lighter, and he still hasn’t replaced it, the bastard,” and realises that Will’s been telling everyone they blew the school up.
“Creating a legend,” he says later, with a grin and mocking bow. “Just because Slaughterhouse is ash and rubble doesn’t mean there isn’t still a reputation to uphold.”
“You what,” Don says, eyebrows going up. “You hated that fucking place and all it stood for.”
“I did,” Will agrees amiably, patting his cheek, “but a reputation is a useful thing, ducky.”
He wanders off, leaving Don staring after him. A Slaughterhouse tie peeps out from below his new blazer cuff, tied neatly to his wrist. One day, Don thinks with a shake of his head, one day he’ll understand his- Will, but not any time soon.
One thing he can do is get Will a new lighter. About twenty times a day he sees Will’s hand go to his picket, or his fingers twist over themselves, faint surprise cross his face when no flame appears. It’s plain silver, no monograms or anything - Don reckons that’d be a step too far - but it’s solid, and feels good in his hand.
He slips it into Will’s blazer one morning, expects maybe a thank you , doesn’t anticipate Will locking their door carefully behind him that night and kissing his cheek. It’s not- not that , can’t be, but Don feels his body go tight all over anyway, and in panic he hugs Will tightly.
Will sobs, just once, the same noise he made when Don burst into their room and tackled him to the floor.
“Thank you,” he says, pulling away after a moment, and that’s good, they’re on safer ground.
“Just, yeah. Sorry about his.”
Will shakes his head. “It was worth it.”
An Autumn chill is brisk in the air, almost about to give way to the sharpness of winter, when they get some news. There’s a small terrace set overlooking the cricket pitch that’s usually empty, where it’s easier to talk if they want to, without being overheard. Will is stretched out along the balustrade, head in Don’s lap, and Hargreaves is sat cross-legged on the floor carefully creating a new character sheet for his next game, an aggressively muscled barbarian figure who wears a cloak and carries a large axe that can burst into flames; even Will doesn’t comment on that one.
Wootton is describing, in minute and mostly invented detail, the three-second glimpse he got of one of the upper sixth heroines in the shower that morning, while they all contemplate who gets to toss him in the nearby lake.
“Incoming,” Wootton says suddenly, interrupting his own story, and they follow his gesture to where Mr Houseman is coming across the terrace. They shuffle to make room and he sits, tries to make conversation. After five minutes they’re all thinking what the hell , because this is weird, really weird. Wootton mostly just stares at him.
“There’ll be a memorial,” Houseman says abruptly, brightly, as if they’re still chatting about getting the cricket pitch mown. Don starts paying attention. “For the- the students who died. Probably the headmaster as well, I should think. He had lots of, er, friends.”
“Arms akimbo,” Will suggests, paying attention again and sharply mocking. It flies clear over Houseman’s head, as usual. “Gown flying around him.”
“Er- quite. Yes. I’m sure it’ll be, ah, a fitting tribute.” He rubs at his arm, pats at the phone-shaped lump in his pocket, clears his throat. “And, er, a memorial to Mister Clegg, too. They’re planning one, I mean.”
After a moment Wootton blurts out, “what the fucking fuck,” which about sums it up really.
“He- well, he did try to help us,” Houseman says, weakly, looking round imploringly, “I mean. A little? At least a very little? At the org- the lake? Where I, ah, ah, with- with the spear? He was there, you said, and he- he helped?” He appeals to Don. “Didn’t he? Try to save you?”
“He fucking did not! He said he’d come to fuck my face, never mentioned anything about helping us.” On the step below Hargreaves shoves Wootton on the shoulder.
“Now now, he had his, ah, his flaws, but I really do think we should-"
“He was a violent fucking queer-hating psychopath,” Don interrupts. “And he shot you!”
“Yes, well, ah, he was under a lot of pressure at the time,” Mr Houseman tempers, hands making fluttering motions.
“Not all the other times he was a bastard to Will he wasn’t.”
Will stands jerkily, face white; if Don reached out now he’d be shaking, Don’s sure of it. Mr Houseman stands too, some dim realisation that his news has gone down badly penetrating through.
“I should, I need to- no, ah, no signal here, you know.” He pats his pocket again. “I’ll just, er, leave you boys to it.”
“Denial,” Hargreaves says dryly, watching him limp back across the lawn to the house, “is not just a river in Egypt.”
“D’you think they’ll do it?” Don says, frowning. “A memorial to that bastard?”
“Why not,” Will replies, a shake in his voice. “They made him head of house, after all.”
He stalks off towards the school, Don hurrying to keep up.
He vanishes once inside though, doesn’t reappear until dinner, and then says barely a word, not even when the headmaster announces the memorials officially. Mr Houseman gives a weak smile when Don catches his eye, and yeah, he supposes the guy was doing them a favour by giving them a heads up, but it’s still a fucking joke. The school applauds with considerable enthusiasm, and they join in with considerably less. Will doesn’t move at all.
Not until they’re in their room, door shut and locked, school quiet around them, does the topic come up again.
“My first year at Slaughterhouse,” Will begins out of nowhere,” Clegg was on patrol with the cadets and found a rambler. He’d got lost and ended up on the estate.” He stares out of the window, not looking at Don, listening carefully. “Please do bear in mind, ducky, that he wasn’t head of house then. Just a particularly nasty and arrogant cadet. The rambler made it out of intensive care eventually, but rumour was he’d lost something- vital, as it were, below the belt.”
Don swallows, almost crosses his legs in imagined sympathy. “Yeah, exactly. He was cracked, completely fucking demented.” He doesn’t see the problem here, although it’s clear there is one. “So?”
“So.” Now Will does look at him, eyes dark, face pale and pinched. “So, the only objection you’ve raised to his memorial is that he was mean to me.”
Don doesn’t know how to answer that. He’d hated Clegg the second they met, but whatever, he hadn’t been expecting to like anyone at Slaughterhouse. Even the bastard’s attitude hadn’t bothered him personally; he’d just decided to keep his head down, avoid Clegg as much as he could, and get on with it.
But now he thinks about it, yeah. It seems that where Will is concerned, Don would cheerfully have thrown himself off a cliff, as long as it meant taking Clegg with him and protecting Will.
“He was a psycho,” he says instead, “and I’m glad he’s dead.”
Despite everything, they’re still at school; there’s lessons and shit to do, so Don gets his head down and does them, pulls Will along when he looks like he’d rather get shitfaced and brood instead.
There’s new rules and different punishments to get used to, although the prefects seem inclined to go easy on the five of them. Smudger leaps right in and treats it all like a great game, gets himself made a hero and onto the rugby team in about five minutes flat.
Hargreaves finds his people, orders a new cloak and better ears. Wootton still tags along with him, bitching about the ears, rolling dice well enough to make everyone groan and generally being a little shit. It’s endearing, almost.
Don had supposed they’d go their separate ways after they arrived at Cunningdown, no longer held together by Sparta or the fight for their lives. Instead they stick together, for the most part. It’s nice, familiar, even if Don feels like he’s ended up with the weirdest fucking friends ever.
They do homework together, eat dinner together most nights, cheer Smudger on at his games, even if Don’s the only one who has any idea what the rules are. When Hargreaves wins the unofficial intra-house D&D tournament they cheer him too, although that time only Wootton knows what’s going on.
The memorial does go up, to the Upper Sixth killed at the orgy. No mention of that, of course; just their names, academic and sporting achievements, and their date of death.
“All very tasteful,” Will remarks, head tilted as they all stand looking at it. “In a completely Slaughterian way, of course.”
It’s a monstrosity in white marble and gold leaf, but he’s right. The base is a head taller than Wootton, the figures slightly larger than life-sized and all dressed in smart uniforms, the Slaughterhouse crest picked out in fine gold wire on their labels.
The companion memorial to Clegg, a smart marble square with lettering all filled in nicely with more gold leaf, is set up outside the cadet block, in memory of a fallen comrade.
It lasts half an hour.
Mr Houseman shouts half-heartedly, because he feels he should, even though he’s still fucking limping. Don lets him; if it makes the man feel better then whatever. He’ll do it again, and Houseman knows it. The other teachers gathered in the headmaster’s study take their turns too, until he’s bored of it, and hefts the bat that no one’s thought to take off him yet.
“Every fucking memorial to that fucking bastard gets destroyed,” he says, and watches the teachers take a step back. “With my bare hands if I have to.”
He walks out, still holding the bat, and heads back to the cricket pitch.
The story spreads, obviously, and more than a few Slaughterians seek him out to show their appreciation. By the end of the day even the old prefects have started showing him some respect, acknowledging almost as an equal. It might be intoxicating, if he gave a shit.
Padraig catches him in the empty house common room, later, and starts going on about how strong he is, how impetuous and bold, and frankly, it’s all a bit embarrassing. The blowjob was fine, whatever, but Don’s trying to think of a non-shitty way to get out of the room, despite Padraig’s hand being where it is, when Will walks in and stops dead.
Padraig coughs awkwardly, takes his hand away from the front of Don’s trousers, and makes himself scarce. Will’s face is pinched and sharp, a flicker of something crossing it that Don doesn’t know how to interpret. “We’re not-"
“I’m not jealous, ducky, don’t let it go to your head.” He stalks out, leaving a brittle silence behind him.
Don’s not an idiot, mostly, but there’s bonding over a life-changingly traumatic event, and bonding over, y’know, other things , and he’d been working under the impression that Will’s feelings for the Viscount were still very much taking up that space, dead or not.
He finds out how wrong it’s possible to be when he goes up to their room.
“I’ve hit below rock bottom,” Will says, remarkably clearly for someone who’s managed to get himself drunk in ten minutes flat. He’s cradling a bottle of vodka, or at least Don assumes it’s vodka; it smells like paintstripper, hidden behind a red label.
“There’s nothing below rock bottom,” Don tells him, gently taking the bottle away. “That’s the point.
Will snorts. “Then I’ve sort of. Scraped myself a hollow to lie in,” he says, making a scooping motion with his hands. “Putting me below the level of the rock.”
“Not how it works.”
“Rock. Fucking. Bottom,” Will repeats, and swipes the bottle back before Don can stop him. He takes another swig.
“A fag who can’t handle his drink,” Will interrupts, although it lacks any bitterness. “I know.” He holds out the bottle, relinquishing it easily when Don takes it. He screws the little red cap on and sets it aside, out of easy grabbing reach; pointless really, as there’s only a large swallow left.
“Don’t,” Don tells him, catching hold of Will’s wrists once the bottle’s safely down. “Don’t say that.”
“Whyever not, ducky? It’s true.”
Don bows his head and sighs, then pushes himself upright. He brings Will with him through sheer force, and together they veer towards the bathroom.
“Get in,” Don says, and manhandles him gently into their shower. The water is icy when he turns it on, but Will doesn’t seem to notice. Instead he shoves his sopping wet hair off his face and smiles sadly, leaning on the wall for support.
“Poor, demented, psychotic Clegg.” Don feels his eyebrows go up. “Ripped to shreds before I could tell him he was right.”
“That fucking piece of-”
“It’s terribly bad form to fall for ones roommate,” Will says, as if Don hadn’t started to speak, “let alone two of them. But here we are.”
Anything Don can think to say would be wrong, he guesses, so he says nothing, letting the bathroom fill with the sound of water and Will’s socks squeaking slightly where they slide on the tiles.
“I’ll be alright now,” Will says after a while, in a changed voice. Suddenly he sounds very sober.
Don leaves him to it, waits outside the room until he hears the slap of wet clothes hitting the floor. Then he steals the last swallow of vodka and lets its warmth carry him to smoker’s corner. He still doesn’t smoke, but he figures it’s as good a place as any to go when you’re having gay meltdown about your best friend.
Will resolutely ignores the incident in the shower. He’s on top form, funny and sarcastic, and generally far too intelligent for Don to keep up with, but not once does he call Don ducky, or sling an arm around his shoulders. Even in sports he keeps far away from the hand Don’s always ready to hold out, to pull him upright when he inevitably collapses in complaint, one mile into their three mile jog.
“Alright,” Don says one afternoon, when he’s had enough. Will’s had enough space. “Come on.”
“Can fucking wait, and since when do you care about fucking lessons?” Don drags Will halfway across the grounds before he stops resisting, and shakes his arm loose. He keeps following, until they’re at the Cunningdown version of smoker’s corner.
It’s a Greek temple, not a Roman one, but apart from that they could be waiting for another Slaughterhouse orgy. Don hopes not; it’s currently unoccupied, and even if he’s going to have enough balls to do what he wants to, he’d still rather not do it with an audience.
Will simply sits down, legs stretching down the stairs, and stares back out towards the school, apparently out of scathing comments for once. Don squats down next to him, close though that he can catch himself on will if he overbalances. It puts them at eye level.
“Why’d you need my tie,” he asks, to the point, and Will’s head comes round, eyes wide. “Could’ve used your coat, Hargreaves’ fucking cloak, anything. Why my tie?” It’s not a shot in the dark; he’s done some thinking.
“Symbolism, ducky. As long as that tie held, you were the one thing keeping me alive.”
Poetic fucking bastard.
“Right.” That’s all he needed to hear. Don stands up, pulling Will with him; he comes easily, like he’s decided to let Don do whatever he wants. It’s appealing. “Sit there.” He pushes Will towards the ledge that runs around the inside of the little temple, out of sight of most people, and he goes, frowning.
“Not that I mind all this bossing around, but whatever for, ducky?”
“Because you’re a tall fucking bastard, and I’m going to kiss you.”
Will’s mouth goes slack and Don leans in before he can lose his nerve, braces himself with a hand against the wall and kisses him. It’s messy, and the angle’s off; he’s pretty nervous, after all, but it still feels amazing.
One heartbeat, two, and then Will breaks away, looking furious.
“If this is-”
“Its fucking not,” Don interrupts, because he knows where that’s going. Will’s mouth snaps shut, and then his back is against a column instead, Will’s tongue so far down his throat it makes his toes curl.
They miss biology, but Don considers it a fair trade, instead learning the shape of Will’s sharp hips under his hands, shivering when Will’s hands slide up inside his shirt to trace over his ribs.
Clemsie was gorgeous, and smart, and mostly Don had just wanted to worship her. He’s maybe a bit like that, he realises, halfway through giving his first blowjob. It’s fucking messy, is what it is, but he could quite happily stay here for hours. He’s got one hand shoved down his trousers, edging himself, and above him Will is sobbing.
It’s great, that’s all.
Apparently everyone was going easy on them, because suddenly the teachers start expecting them to do some work, despite Will’s protests that he intends to live the life of a useless dilettante once he leaves school. It wouldn’t leave much room for anything else, if it weren’t for the fact that they share a room, and how’s that for a stroke of genius.
“Not what I had in mind for it,” Will says on a gasp.
Don looks up from where he’s intent on fingering Will open - two fingers, yet to find the sweet spot - and grins. “Bollocks, you wanted this.”
“Never crossed my mind, ducky,” and for that Don slides in a third finger, hides his grin against Will’s thigh and bites him briefly, just to hear the whimpers.
He’d worried, briefly, how iron-clad the never touch the balls rule was, but apparently he needn’t have bothered.
They get walked in on exactly once, when Will forgets to lock their door, and they’re apparently late for dinner. Don couldn’t give a flying fuck, but there’s not much blood left to keep his brain working, plus Will’s cock is up his arse, and that’s taking up most of his attention.
The point is they’re halfway through when the door flies open, rebounding off the desk, and Hargreaves’ strangled screeches of why is the desk there and then what the everloving fuck! interrupt them.
The desk is in the way because they’d had to move it, to get the ropes nicked from the cadet stores around the legs, and now Don’s bent over it, rope tied about his wrists, keeping him face down and helpless.
The door slams shut again, somewhere outside Wootton yelps that he wants to see, and Don laughs wildly into the wood.
“Definitely not the sort of thing you get at Doncaster,” they hear Hargreaves say through the door, and behind him Will snorts.
“Their loss,” he says brightly, moving again, and Don couldn’t give less of a fuck about what they do at Doncaster, as long as he keeps getting ploughed over a school desk.
Don goes home for Christmas, with Will in tow, and not a single word gets said about the spare room this time. They get each other presents, force each other through the fucking homework they’ve got, and eat their bodyweight in turkey. There’s a group facetime on Christmas Day, after the Queen’s Speech; his mum makes them watch it, and Will loves every minute, charms her with some story about how many times removed he’s related to her (not many, apparently).
Clemsie and Smudger are in some posh drawing room somewhere, clearly trashed and hiding from family, giggling together about Aunt Hildegard. Kay’s back too, sat in some fancy flat multitasking between talking to them and playing chess. Hargreaves is in his bedroom, judging by the little figurines everywhere behind him, and Wootton is apparently passed out on the floor by his feet.
“Too much sherry,” he says, and swears like a navvy when Wootton appears from nowhere to bash him with a pillow.
Don has to admit, he’s become fond of the little sod. Of the lot of them, crush on Clemsie not counting. They chat for ages, his mum smiling indulgently when she passes by and sees what they’re doing. She still thinks he and Will have some sort of PTSD where they need to be close to each other all the time - survivor’s guilt, or whatever - but he’s pretty sure she’ll be okay with it.
January sees the return of Clemsie and Kay at last, back for the exam grind and looking tanned. Understandably she spends a lot of time with Smudger, but eventually she pops up at Don’s side one lunchtime and tilts her head towards the temple.
He holds out the silver lighter when they get there, sees the raised eyebrow but doesn’t offer an explanation. She leans in to light her cigarette and doesn’t comment, instead asking about the school. Eventually conversation falters and Don has to bring it up, before he chickens out.
“Will and me,” he says, then doesn't know how to finish it. Clemsie rolls her eyes.
“Obviously,” she says, which isn’t exactly what he was hoping for, but probably avoids a whole load of complications. When the cigarette is done she stubs it out into the monogrammed sandbox, stands up, says, “let me watch sometime, yah?” and walks off.
Will drops down next to him while he’s still watching her leave, bumping their shoulders together. “How did that go then?”
“She wants to watch.”
“Of course she fucking does, ducky.” Will leans in and snags the lighter. “Do you want her to?”
Will shrugs, flicking the lighter on, off, on. “I doubt I’d notice if the Bat came back from the dead and held up a scorecard at the end.”
And yeah, fair, that’s true, mostly because he only shuts up if Don goes hard enough, and he’s made it his personal goal to fuck the words out of Will as many times as possible. It’s amazing no one’s reported them still, but he puts that down to thick stone walls and their reputation.
“Come on,” Will says, “I need to practice Catullus for Latin.”
“Oh, fucking go to hell, if I have to listen to that fucking poem one more time-”
“I’ll let you suck me off while I practice,” Will says, with a sly smile.
“Twist my arm why don’t you,” Don groans, and lets Will pull him up.