The Monkey Bar
“You!” Russell calls out, pointing his finger as he enters what they call The Monkey Bar ; Paul right beside him, “And you.”
Billy’s eyes follow the finger as it leaves him and tracks down James, sitting at the bar. His eyes don’t falter for what Billy knows is too long. Maybe if the others knew Billy a little better they would know that look is because Billy is stunned by James’ beauty. But as it is they don’t know Billy that long, or that well - because this is still what they refer to as “boot camp” ( “As if we’re doing press-ups at six in the morning,” James had said), the very first scene is yet to be shot and they’re still playing the white/blue/light-blue/red shirt game - they probably simply think that this is just the way Billy is.
Russell would probably know this sort of stuff about Paul, Billy thinks, because of the whole Beautiful Mind thing, which is what the conversation has drifted to since Billy and James have been chosen as pool-partners (hence the pointing) and apparently Russell and Paul have quite the pool-history.
“He’s a liar and a cheat,” Paul reveals affectionately, “And by God, I will win at least one game of pool from him during this shoot.”
“Something he didn’t achieve during ‘ Mind ’,” Russell says, murmurs a bit even, as he traces his fingers around the edge of a framed monkey drawing, revealing a small layer of dust.
“And that’s another lie,” Paul says nonchalantly, before turning his attention to Billy. “Boyd, right?”
He nods with a smile, “Billy.”
“Billy,” Paul declares, resting his hand on Billy’s shoulder, “You shall be my pool-partner.”
“Aye,” Billy smiles again and gets up from his table.
James seems thrilled when Russell declares him to be on the Crowe-team. Billy wonders for a second if he is just star struck and decides quickly that it must be that, because James is just about the straightest man he has encountered since Sean Bean (and no, he won’t believe the rumours Dom started about Sean because everybody knows that Dom is just one big bag of lies anyway); which is a shame about James, Billy thinks, but that’s all he thinks of the matter. Billy makes a point of not going after straight guys.
And besides, the pool table is waiting for him.
“You will find,” Paul says as he leans closer to Billy, bracing most of his weight on his cue, “That dear old Russell here is extremely competitive.”
“What’s there to be competitive about?” Russell asks, and Billy can see his eyes smile, “You are by far the worst pool player I have ever seen.”
“Glad to be on his team then,” Billy quips sarcastically but then it’s Paul’s turn and shows with his first break that he isn’t such a bad player at all.
“You were saying?” Paul raises an eyebrow at Russell, then raises his hand to high-five Billy.
Russell’s answer is to go order some drinks.
Talk about characters is still a long way off but rank is beginning to show as one of the white shirts at the bar (“ My God, by the time I learn all these names I’ll be fifty ,” James had sighed, and Billy suddenly had a moment of ‘ Rings ’ déjà-vu), lets Russell order first.
A little while later it becomes clear that Russell and Paul are actually quite well-matched when it comes to playing pool. Only Russell has a bigger mouth. But Paul won’t give up without a fight. Russell’s competitiveness is contagious, it seems, because James rapidly becomes as keen on beating the others as Russell is.
“You’re lucky Billy’s a good player,” Russell states when Billy and Paul are about five balls away from winning the game.
“I choose my people wisely,” Paul says smugly, hands flat on Billy’s shoulders and as Paul’s palms warm Billy’s skin through his white sweater, Billy notices just how tall he really is. (‘ Tall Paul ,’ Billy thinks and snorts silently)
“Fuck,” James curses as his shot lands perfectly for Paul and Billy and they roar in anticipation of victory.
“Looks like your rule is over, Captain,” Paul smirks at Russell.
“I could have you flogged,” Russell jokes but then Billy’s leaning over the table, eyes focussed on the ball and…
“Yes!” Paul cries out as Billy wins the game.
Suddenly, Billy gets pulled in a bear-hug by an ecstatic Paul and with eyes just over Paul’s shoulder, Billy can see James take another gulp of his beer and Russell laugh at Paul’s excitement.
As Paul pulls back, with another pat on Billy’s shoulder, Billy notices that a happy Paul is a whole lot more beautiful than a defeated James.
“There y’are,” Billy says as he enters the set of the captain’s cabinet, “Fancy another game of pool? Russell and James are all ready in The Monkey Bar .”
Paul smiles apologetic as he tightens his fingers around the neck of the cello in front of him.
“What’s up?” Billy frowns.
Paul sighs as his hand slides over the wood of the instrument.
“I was supposed to know this piece by now.”
“Little more difficult than the guitar then?” Billy smiles slightly as he sits down on the bench near the window.
He half expects to see the ocean swirl outside but all there is is a bluescreen.
“You can say that again. I sound like I’m trying to climb up a squirrel,” Paul answers, playing a few notes on the cello.
Then he lays his fingers flat on the strings to mute the sound as he looks at Billy, “Russell told me he heard you play guitar yesterday.”
“Did he now?” Billy laughs, lifting one leg onto the bench and half hugging it.
“Maybe we should play together sometimes,” Paul suggests, rubbing his bow.
“Aye,” Billy smiles, “That sounds great.”
“As long as it isn’t the cello,” Paul sighs again.
“Rome wasn’t built in one day,” Billy comforts.
“Russell’s so bloody quick at these lessons it’s making me sick,” Paul counters, “How anyone can learn to play the violin in that short a time is beyond me.”
Billy snorts softly. Paul starts his melody again, but abruptly stops to start talking once more.
“And to say these musical scenes are what convinced me to take this role,” he muses, “The quiet in the middle of the storm.”
Then he laughs a little at himself and strikes a quick rhythm on his cello. He stops to examine his fingers and even from where Billy’s sitting, it’s quite visible that they’re red and obviously hurting.
“The strings of a cello are a lot tougher than those of a guitar,” Paul says matter of factly.
“Why don’t you stop for today then?” Billy asks, not taking his eyes off Paul’s wounded fingers, “Everybody else did.”
But Paul shakes his head and says, “I need to nail this piece today. I’m already behind Russ.”
“I should probably leave you to it then,” Billy says but as he moves to get up Paul simply shakes his head again, his mind already back to the Violin Concerto No. 3 ( “Why something called a Violin Concerto needs a cello as well is beyond me,” Paul had said to Russell) as he says, “No. You can stay.”
Billy nods and sits down again, head leaning against the wood of one of the beams as he watches Paul resume playing. Paul’s quick fingers close over the strings and fill the relatively small set with Mozart. The bow floats over the instrument as Paul closes his eyes and concentrates, face scrunching a little as a wrong note flies through the air. But Billy doesn’t flinch. He just sits and watches quietly how Paul tries to make his music perfect, even if it takes all night.
To die; to sleep. No more.
“I’m so tired I could sleep forever,” Paul says, stretching his long legs luxuriously.
“To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub,” Billy quotes.
“Now that you mention it, I was thinking more along the lines of a shoulder rub, not Shakespeare,” Paul smiles, “What do you reckon my chances are?”
“Slim to none, mate,” Billy grins, resting his head on the woodwork behind him.
“Too bad,” Paul smiles as he fiddles with the edges of his script pages, looking out over the deck of the almost deserted ship.
“I think I could get used to this,” Billy says as two crew members step off deck, after telling them they shouldn’t stay on board of the gimbal in the tank too long without Peter’s permission.
Paul nods and raises his hand to wave once as they leave his sight.
“We should get to this scene, Paul,” Billy says, picking up the blackboard and writing the word ‘monkey’ on it in chalk.
“Plenty of time,” Paul smiles, his gaze fluttering to Billy, whose eyes are half covered with blonde curls as he studies the paper with animal names.
Then Paul looks up at the mast, sighing contently at the maze of ropes above him.
“You know,” Billy’s voice seemingly breaking Paul’s train of thoughts, “I couldn’t spend my whole life on a ship. But for now… this is good.”
“You do realize we’re sitting on a pretend boat that doesn’t actually sail?” Paul snorts.
“Ha bloody ha,” Billy chuckles as Paul takes the chalkboard from him and lightly taps it against his head.
“You know, you’re not a very good teacher,” Billy complains, “First you smack me over the head with that board. And then you make me read words like ‘quail’. What’s the bloody point in that? I’m a coxswain, you should be teaching me stuff I could use.”
“What could I possibly teach you that could be of use as a coxswain, Master Bonden?” Paul asks, putting up his best Maturin-accent.
“The word ‘coxswain’, for example,” Billy says, “Bet he doesn’t know how to write that . And he is one, and not a quail.”
“Well, I’m not so sure about that,” Paul mutters, grinningly, then quickly ducks as Billy tries to hit him with his rolled up script.
“And are you sure he wouldn’t rather know how to write the word ‘cock’ instead of ‘coxswain’ anyway?” Paul chuckles.
“Cheeky, Doctor Maturin,” Billy answers, poking Paul’s ribs with his elbow.
“I should also teach him how to write the word ‘toothbrush’ because my guess is he could use one,” Paul quips.
“Are you making fun of my teeth?” Billy says indignantly.
“Only a tiny bit,” Paul winks.
“Well, now that shoulder rub is definitely out of the question, mate,” Billy huffs, slapping Paul’s shoulder again with his script paper.
“If I had known it was still in the question, I would’ve been more diplomatic,” Paul says.
“You mean, you would’ve sucked up more,” Billy clarifies.
“Yes, but I don’t swallow,” Paul winks.
“Cheeky again,” Billy laughs, only vaguely aware that this conversation is rapidly speeding towards ‘flirting’, “But I’m sure I can convince you otherwise.”
“Yes,” Billy says, quite confident, “Well, not now you’ve insulted my teeth. I demand an apology first.”
“Alright,” Paul says, placing the board nicely on his lap as he turns to Billy, “Your teeth are nice and pointy.”
“Pointy?” Billy chuckles.
Paul nods firmly.
“You been looking at my teeth then, Doctor?” Billy asks, amused.
“Sort of hard to miss when one’s staring at your mouth,” Paul explains matter of factly.
“You’ve been staring at my mouth,” Billy repeats, and now he’s pretty damn sure of where the conversation is heading.
“I have,” Paul says, leaning back against the woodwork and closing his eyes.
Billy looks at him for a few seconds, quietly amused by Paul’s behaviour.
Then he calls out, “Paul?”
When Paul opens his eyes and turns to look at Billy again, Billy presses cool lips against his. Paul smiles into the kiss, fingers sliding around the back of Billy’s neck, entangling in a fistful of blonde curls.
The kiss is calm and lazy, much like Billy and Paul are themselves this afternoon.
When Billy pulls back, licking his lips as he stares at Paul’s mouth (no pointy teeth!), Paul quips, “You know, this is highly inappropriate. You being a mere white shirt and all.”
But Billy’s laugh rings pleasantly through the air and Billy chuckles, “Shuddup” as he leans in again, and Paul gladly accepts the kiss.
“Hey you…” Billy calls out as he finally finds Paul near the waterside.
Paul nods, his hand above his eyes to block out the sun as he looks up at Billy.
“I thought you were going to come to the bar.” It’s more of a question than a statement.
“I didn’t want to be inside just yet,” Paul smiles as Billy comes to sit down next to him. Paul’s arms are resting on the faded denim of his worn out jeans. He blinks a bit as the reflection of the sun on the water hits his eyes.
Billy nods as if he understands and asks, “How were the Galapagos Islands?”
“Nowhere have I felt my ignorance more strongly,” Paul whispers after a small pause in which he closes his eyes.
“I’ll take that as a ‘it was beautiful’, yeah?” Billy smiles softly.
Paul’s eyes wrinkle into a smile as he quietly nods.
“It’s so…” Paul starts, but then says, “You’d have to see it to believe it.”
He takes a deep breath, eyes drifting from the water to Billy. “We’re so ignorant and stupid. We’re nothing, really. We’re not even beautiful.”
“I do hope you’re talking about humans in general here, and not just me,” Billy says with a quiet smile.
Paul just snorts and places his hand between Billy and himself, to lean on as he drops a kiss on Billy’s lips as an answer. Pulling back, he looks out over the water again and says, “They’re not scared of you.”
Billy blinks and it takes him a second to pick up the thread of what Paul’s saying.
“The animals,” Paul clarifies, “They just sit there and they don’t even notice you. It’s amazing. I… I can’t explain it.”
“You’re explaining it just fine,” Billy whispers and he means it too.
He shifts his hand a little, until it’s slightly touching Paul’s and Paul hooks his little finger around Billy’s. Then they sit and watch the water. And Billy listens to Paul speak, even when he doesn’t say a word.