Neon lights flashed in the crowded bar. Bodies pulsed as music pounded through the speakers and echoed in the ruins of the museum. Alcohol flowed and laughter filled the room.
From where she was perched on top of the bar, Valkyrie could view all the revelry around her. Someone, probably LeDoux, handed her a shot of something and she quickly downed the bitter liquid.
She couldn’t remember how much she had to drink that night, and she didn’t care. Her fiery tresses cascaded down her back, free of its usual ponytail, and the sequins on her top glittered as she stretched her arms above her head and closed her eyes; savouring the rush of another Saturday night in the Deep End. The strong smell of alcohol, the thin layer of sweat on her body, and the loud laughter of the teens around her created the kind of energy that made the idea of being forever eighteen possible.
Opening her eyes, she was immediately distracted by the flash of light on blond curls. Strat was laughing, his head thrown back, blue eyes alight with mirth. The halo of hair waved as he shook his head and stood. Downing his beer, he clasped hands with his friends before leaving the bar.
It was normal for the leader to leave the parties early. Before freezing, Strat and Valkyrie would close down the bar every night, staying out long after last call. In recent years, he had started leaving earlier and earlier; now only sharing one or two beers with his friends before calling it a night. Though they were forever young, the blond leader had seemed to grow up, withdrawing from some of their more juvenile activities. His mind seemed to constantly whirl with thoughts that spilled from his mouth in jumbled poetry. The gang tried to understand, but it was as though the words were being whispered to him on a wind that no one else could feel.
Valkyrie finished her drink, jumping off the bar and making her way through the crowds, taking a bottle of tequila with her. She stopped and chatted along the way with a few of her friends before heading towards the leader’s room.
Strat’s bedroom was the biggest room in the old museum, and she knocked once on the old door once before entering. The boy was sitting at the ornate desk in the middle of the room; one that had been there long before the Lost had inhabited it. His blond hair was all she could see as his nose was nearly pressed to the notebook he was scribbling in. The sight made Valkyrie smile as she approached the desk, Strat not even noticing her presence until her hand gently squeezed his shoulder.
“Oh, hey!” He finally looked up at her with a goofy grin. “What are you doing here? I thought you were still at the bar.”
“I wanted to see you,” The redhead shrugged her shoulders, hopping up to sit on the desk in front of him. “You always leave early, I never see you anymore.” She playfully nudged his thigh with her toe. “But I brought the party to you!” she giggled, handing him the bottle. Strat accepted the bottle with a raised brow, chuckling as he began to drink.
Time passed as the two friends passed the bottle back and forth.
“I haven’t been this drunk since… Before.” The blond boy’s cheeks were flushed as he studied the empty bottle.
“Yeah, you’re all serious now,” Valkyrie laughed at the boy. There was a sadness between them; being eighteen forever came with a few more responsibilities than anyone had expected. “But hey!” she smiled, trying to brighten the mood. “Remember what we used to do back then?”
“We did a lot of things back then,” Strat snickered. Some he remembered and some he didn’t, but he knew most had been stupid. “You used to let everyone do body shots off of you, I remember that.” His eyes twinkled mischievously at the memory.
“Well, you used to take your shirt off every time we went out to the bar… Well, you still can’t keep your shirt on,” she laughed, climbing up on the desk. Her hips moved to the beat of the music playing in the distance, “You used to dance with me too, not be such a square!”
Tequila was a fickle friend and she lost her balance, falling head over combat boots into Strat’s lap. He caught her unceremoniously and laughter overcame the two friends as she steadied herself.
“Nice catch,” she laughed breathlessly, gently touching their foreheads together.
“Anytime.” Strat grins, wrapping her arms around her waist.
Their eyes locked, and before she could think, she was pressing her lips against his. If he was startled, she didn’t notice as he pulled her in, deepening the kiss. His calloused fingers were soft against the small of her back, blond curls tickling her cheek.
The smell of engine grease brought her back to reality; she was kissing Strat. Valkyrie gently pulled away, studying the blond boy.
“Is this okay?” she asked her best friend of many years.
The two sit in silence as the question hangs heavily in the air around them.
“Yes,” he nodded. His blue eyes were wide as he stared up at her, his gaze lingering a moment before kissing her again. She melted against him, shifting closer as his hands tangled in her red hair. The fire between them continued to build, until Strat reluctantly stopped, leaning back to look at the redhead straddling his lap.
“Are we doing this?” he asked breathlessly.
“Hell yes,” She kissed him quickly before crawling off his lap. She eagerly grabbed his hand in her own and they ran towards his mattress in the corner.
A sliver of moonlight had snuck in through a crack in the foundation, bathing the lovers in its silver glow. Rolling over on the small, tattered mattress, she studied the boy beside her. Blue eyes met hers momentarily and he offered her a small smile, a rare moment when thoughts of the outside world didn’t sharpen his sweet face. His blond hair seemed to glow aside his alabaster skin; dark stains from engine grease on his chest creating a breathtaking contrast.
Her small hands ran gently up his arm to his shoulder and chest, tracing the path she had taken earlier that evening. This time, it wasn’t rushed, and her exploration ended with her hand over his chest. She could feel his smooth skin beneath her, the gentle drumming of his heart reassuring her with every beat.
The haze of tequila and passion had faded, and she was presented with a clear picture of the young man in front of her. Not the fearless leader, nor the wasted youth... Just the person who knew every dark piece of her and stood by her anyways.
Her best friend.
Her best friend that she’d just slept with.
Her fingers tensed, and she abruptly sat up, pulling the tattered sheet over her.
“Strat…” her mouth was dry as she worked to form the words. “We should talk about this.”
“What’s there to talk about?” he asked, his blue eyes innocent as he propped himself up on one elbow. His long fingers gently traced over her hipbone, a caress that almost sent Valkyrie falling back into him. But the blood rushed to her face as his words made her stomach flip.
He was right. There was nothing to talk about.
This was a mistake.
“No, you’re right.” The lithe redhead quickly stood, dressing.
“Val, wait….” She could hear him behind her, rustling the sheets. She refused to look, to show him the shame that was eating a hole in her stomach. “That’s not what I meant,” long arms wrapping around her middle as she finished pulling her shirt over her head.
“It doesn’t matter.” She peeled his arms off of her as she turned to look at him, “You and I… This… It was a mistake. You’re my best friend, and I can’t ruin this.” She cared about the boy, maybe a little more than a friend would have.
“You can’t ruin it, Valkyrie. This may not have been planned, but this was not a mistake.” His eyes were wide and his voice earnest as he grabbed her hand.
“What would you call it, Strat?” she rolls her eyes.
“Fate, Valerie…” He told her as she stared in disbelief, the use of her given name causing her to freeze. “For crying out loud… I love you.”
“You’re serious.” Her usually guarded expression turned to one of wonder as she searched his face for the truth. The two had been friends for as long as she could remember, both relying on each other to get through whatever came their way. One of her hands gently brushed his cheek, “For how long?”
“It’s always been you, Valerie. Then, now, forever.”
“I love you too,” she whispered, a smile lighting her face.
Strat’s grin matched hers, and he pulled her close. Her face was nestled in his chest, and he pressed a kiss to her forehead.
“So, will you come back to bed now?” He laughed against her hair.
“Sure, but no funny business,” she joked, letting him lead her back to the mattress.
“Can I ask you something?” His voice was soft as his fingers trailed down her arm. Her hair tickled as she looks up at him. Cradling her close, he propped himself up on one arm to gaze down at her. “On a hot summer night, would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?”
It was a phrase Strat only uttered to the closest of those to share his bed; a part of his lifelong search to find someone with the answer to his question. Valkyrie had seen many people leave, unable to see the world the same way the blond did.
As blue eyes shone down at her, there was a softness that accompanied his signature twinkle. She was a cynic by nature, but he had always given her something to believe in.
“You’re meant to come up with a response,” his eyebrows furrowing as he pouted.
“It is a response, isn’t it?” She snickered, running her fingers through his curls. “Kiss me, you idiot.” She laughed and he finally ducked his head to press his lips to hers. The kiss was soft and sweet, lingering until he settled himself back on the mattress. Her head fell into place on his shoulder as he held her tenderly.
In the beginning, she had always thought it was the two of them against the world. Maybe, she thought, snuggled against him on that hot summer night, maybe she had always been right about that.