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always the exception

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It began when Henry kissed the wrong Elizabeth.

At least, he was pretty sure it was the wrong Elizabeth. The one he was meant to be kissing, the one he’d already kissed under drastically different circumstances, was about ten years younger than this particular Elizabeth. This Elizabeth should have been an inch taller than him without heels on instead of several inches shorter, and this Elizabeth should have been looking her absolute best in a rather flattering black dress.

This Elizabeth was beautiful too, really, quite stunning in a sleek black dress of her own, but it wasn’t Debicki that Henry kissed. This Elizabeth, the pretty one with the dark hair, was, as it happened, Armie’s wife.

The fault didn't entirely lie with him. Sure, the young, blonde, and very single Elizabeth hadn't been anywhere near him at the time, yet the fact remains that Elizabeth had kissed him first, at which time she had been very, very drunk. He was also very, very drunk, perhaps even more so, his terribly inebriated state due to having spent the evening doing as the locals do in Rio with Armie and his wife, clinking glasses of beer and laughing and lounging around like they didn’t have a care in the world. It's just what drunk people do, kissing, so it couldn’t have been that terrible, especially when a specific somebody had put a fair amount of energy into enthusiastically egging them on.

And speak of the devil, Armie was just as drunk as either of them, and so it only stands to reason that he should have shared the blame with the pair of them.

He certainly shared the kiss, after all.

Before Henry had been given a chance to rationalize his actions (and to hell with that idea, it’s not like he was going to do much of that either way, being the most inebriated of the bunch), Armie was crawling across the couch, handing off his own glass to his wife, and kissing Henry like he was getting paid to do it.

Maybe it’s because Armie was drunk, or maybe because Henry was especially so, but it seemed much more pornographic than the occasion had called for, dissolving quickly into a filthy kiss that had lasted for what seemed like hours before Armie was reaching for Henry’s belt and —


“I'm sorry, he did what?” Henry asks, more out of shock than a desire to hear the story repeated. Elizabeth — the Elizabeth he'd actually kissed, the dark-haired, somewhat hungover, definitely-not-Australian Elizabeth — nods slowly, as if she can't quite believe the story either, except that she’s the one telling the story. Being that she had been the most sober one at the time, she is, apparently, also the only one who seems to remember the night’s events with startling clarity.

With his question answered Henry turns his growing disbelief toward Armie, who sits at the small kitchenette table dressed only in a pair of flannel pyjama bottoms, which is one more article of clothing than he’d been wearing when Henry had woken thirty minutes earlier, comfortably nestled between the happy couple.

“You didn't…? Armie?”

“That is an… excellent question,” Armie says carefully, delaying his response with a well-timed and unnaturally long sip of coffee. He’s left most of the story-telling to his wife so far, but Henry has gathered that even Armie remembers more of it than he’s let on. “I, uh… I mean, I might've… does all this not feel, you know, weirdly Hangover-ish to you? Like, we all have different memories from last night and we’re trying to piece together everything and —”

Elizabeth clears her throat, businesslike in the way that only mothers and wives can be. Armie sighs, seeming to realize that he's fighting a losing battle, and finally slumps in his chair and mumbles into his mug, “I’m sorry I tried to jerk you off in front of my wife.”

Elizabeth sips her coffee.

The polite and upstanding Englishman in Henry is immediately scandalized, horrified, and somewhat nauseated all at once, the latter especially for reasons that he’s fairly sure have almost nothing to do with his hangover.

For nearly a full minute he says nothing, unable to think of anything that will make him sound like he’s not receiving this information for the first time, but it’s entirely possible that Elizabeth and Armie might’ve gotten the hint already. The problem really isn’t that he’s done any of this, especially since neither Armie nor Elizabeth seem to be particularly upset about it. That’s not to say that it isn't slightly concerning that he’s just spent the evening taking part in who knows what with his married friends, because that part isn’t actually all that surprising; after all, it’s not as if people don’t know that he spends a lot of time with the Hammer family because he enjoys their company, and it’s really no secret that he finds both Armie and Elizabeth particularly attractive. However, it is a problem that he doesn’t seem to remember a single bit of it, and therefore has no way of knowing how he’d acted and how his actions had been received in the moment. For all he knows, Armie and Elizabeth might think he'd just had too much to drink, or that he plans to run the minute their backs are turned.

With Henry as embarrassed as he is, that doesn't sound like a terrible option.

“But you didn't,” Henry manages, breaking the silence at last with something that’s as much a statement as it is a plea. He stares at Armie, mostly because all Elizabeth has done so far is smile politely at him, and he thinks he has a better chance of pulling a confession (and therefore a reaction) directly out of the most guilty party. “Did you?”

There’s a worryingly long pause.

“Well,” Armie says, in a tone that suggests he has something to say and no desire to say it. The first thing that comes to Henry’s mind, embarrassingly, is the amount of beer he’d put into his body last night. The second thing that comes to mind is perhaps even more embarrassing, because if Henry doesn't remember any of this he certainly wouldn't remember performance issues of any sort, and that might be another problem entirely. Really, who ends up satisfied in a possible drunken threesome with setbacks like that?

“He did,” Elizabeth informs Henry.

Henry thinks: oh, God.

“But most of it was… yeah, I did at the start, but most of it it was kind of with my mouth,” Armie argues. Elizabeth nods, satisfied, and all thoughts of performance issues in Henry’s mind melt away immediately in the wake of this new and mortifying information.

Henry says: “Oh, God.”

Henry says, “I am so sorry,” and Elizabeth, who hasn’t frowned or pointed fingers even once through the entirety of this conversation, reaches over and places a gentle hand on Henry’s own.

“If we hadn't wanted it, it wouldn't have happened,” she tells him, which actually does make Henry feel better. He knows for a fact that had either Elizabeth (or Armie, or even Henry himself) not wanted any of it, had she not wanted to kiss him, had she not wanted Armie’s hands and mouth on him, had she not wanted Armie’s hands and mouth between her own thighs —

The memory of it rises unbidden to the forefront of his mind, and if Henry had been acting the part of somebody perfectly unembarrassed by the entire affair before, he certainly isn't now. He can feel the heat creeping up his neck and into his cheeks, prickling at the back of his neck as he tries to think about anything other than the way Elizabeth had watched him with dark eyes and her manicured fingers scratching at Armie’s scalp.

“Maybe we should try again when everybody isn't hungover and dying,” Armie suggests, breaking the silence that Henry hasn't even noticed settling over the table. He might have been sitting here for ten seconds or for ten minutes, occupied as he is by the vivid memory of Armie’s voice in his ear, then Armie’s voice muffled by a thigh.

Henry looks up, startled all over again by the suggestion — he didn't think he’d ever even kissed another man until this morning, never mind a man and his wife — and Armie, seeming to notice for the first time that Henry is actually starting to get quite flustered over this whole situation, corrects quickly, “This, I mean, the discussion, not the… all of us. That’s totally not my call. I'm just comfortable with what you're comfortable with.”

He looks at each of the people seated at the table, having accomplished absolutely nothing with his reassuring pep talk, and finally pushes his chair out. “Breakfast,” he announces to the room at large, and kisses Elizabeth’s temple on the way by.

Henry notices that Elizabeth’s hand hasn’t left his only when she squeezes his fingers.


Henry spends the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon fretting. It goes completely against Elizabeth’s advice, which is to take it easy for the day and try to enjoy the rest of his time in the city, but Henry finds that it’s much easier to worry about what Elizabeth and Armie must think of him than it is to relax. Aside from that, he really does work on trying his absolute best to remember anything from the night before. Most of what he does remember is from early on in the evening (when he hadn't been quite so smashed), and consists of flashes of dinner and drinks near the beach, more drinks and stifling heat at the densely-packed 00, and more dancing than he is generally accustomed to taking part in on any given day.

He remembers his less sober moments in bits and pieces. Mostly he pictures things like flashing lights and overcrowded dance floors, and only vaguely remembers a hotel lobby and too-bright lights in a lift, but after that… nothing. Or nothing that he can successfully piece together. Elizabeth and Armie had recounted a fair number of stories, but even they haven’t helped to fill in all the blanks. He considers it a victory each time even a small flash of memory reveals itself, but even then he simply isn't sure if he’s starting to remember more, or if his imagination is just filling in the missing pieces for him.

During the afternoon, he's looking at his mobile when he imagines Elizabeth’s thighs bracketing Armie’s head. He remembers his own legs stretched out haphazardly, unfastened belt buckle and all.

He nearly drops his mobile on the street.


As the day winds to a close Henry finds himself back in the safety of the hotel. The room isn't his own, of course, but to his surprise he finds the room momentarily occupied only by Armie; Elizabeth has stepped out in search of some vague item or another, which means that it isn't by accident that Henry finds himself alone with only his costar for company.

It’s not so bad, luckily. It never is with Armie. The man is actually excellent company, usually quite animated and full of conversation, and there never seems to be a lack of it between them. Tonight he’s decidedly relaxed, his feet propped up on the table in front of the couch. Henry decides to do the same, if only so that he can pretend that they won't eventually have to hold a serious discussion about last night.

Naturally, the conversation starts off pleasant and friendly, sharing stories about their day and the things they've seen and how happy they are that Ritchie's somehow managed to take them all around the world on an unforgettable trip... and then things take a sharp turn away from the subject of tourism and toward the subject of their post-premiere celebrations.

“I still can't believe you don't remember anything about last night,” Armie says out of the blue. “Did you manage to get anything back?”

It’s exactly what Henry had been expecting, but Armie’s tone surprises him. It’s not in the least bit mocking or teasing. In fact, he seems to be speaking with something akin to quiet wonder, most of his usual energy toned down to suit the silence of the room. Armie is extremely good at being personable and intimate, almost as soft-spoken at times as Henry himself.

For a moment he considers a simple no, I was drunk. He’s used that excuse too many times today, sadly, and opts to give a small smile instead. No, I was drunk, and I regret being drunk because I would gladly do it again sober doesn’t really roll off the tongue, does it?

“I know,” Henry agrees, trying not to look too self-deprecating. “I tried, but… I only remember some bits. There’s not much. Maybe I’ll never know what really happened.”

Armie is quiet for a moment, thinking. Henry can feel his eyes on him without looking up, and thinks he might've missed the mark with his humour. Again, without meaning to, he thinks of Armie’s hands deftly unfastening his belt, Armie’s mouth sliding somehow from his neck to his cock, Armie’s low groan of approval with a handful of hair wound tight in Henry’s fingers...

Henry swallows, and Armie says, “You can't stop thinking about it, can you?”

Henry looks up. Armie hasn’t moved at all from his position, but everything from the softening slope of his shoulders to the concerned creases in his forehead suggests that he’s trying to make himself smaller, more approachable. Armie is a large man in size and in personality, and when one variable changes the other almost always seems to follow suit. It’s not that he isn't friendly, because he is, almost frighteningly so, and that’s why Armie makes such a great partner for conversations. It can be difficult to hold a quiet, somber conversation with a man who brightens the world as much as Armie does, but Armie seems to be the exception to the rule. He and Elizabeth both, it seems, are always the exception.

“Henry,” he says after a moment, “I don't want things to be weird, you know? I just wanna know where you’re at. I want you to be comfortable. Both of us do. You know my wife loves you, man. I do too. Who wouldn't?”

Henry smiles despite himself, and he smiles more when he finally meets Armie’s gaze. “Thank you,” he says.

Armie makes a dismissive noise and waves his hand. “Nah, come on, thank you. You didn't run away this morning, you were super cool about it, and we both really just…” he trails off, gesturing vaguely to indicate the rest of the things he's thankful for. “We were kind of scared you weren’t gonna be into it, you know? Thought it wasn’t gonna be your thing, or you’d be like, fuck no, I don’t wanna sleep with this weird fuckin’ couple…”

Henry can’t help but laugh. “I really can’t imagine why anyone would want to. Look at you, you’re terrible people,” he says, and Armie chuckles back at him as if he’s just brought up a well-loved inside joke. There’s no joking in this, though, not at the heart of the matter. This weird couple has been his favourite group of people since he’d had the pleasure of seeing them both together for the first time, happy and in love in the way that makes them even more likable as a couple, and he certainly hasn’t been shy about admitting so. He loves their energy, the openness of their home, the way they embrace life and one another, and he loves that they treat him like family, too.

Henry feels humbled, suddenly, the idea finally starting to sink in that he might have been part of something a bit more meaningful than just a drunken night of debauchery. It’s not every day that a married couple invites one into their lives, so to speak.

Henry reaches over and takes Armie’s hand.

He doesn't know what to do with it once he has it, having just decided on a whim that holding Armie’s hand might be an appropriate thing to do. He turns it over, thumbing over the lines of Armie’s palm and the smooth metal of his wedding band. It’s so different in size and shape from his signet rings. He admires it, actually.

“So you’re… cool with it? Like, all of us?” Armie asks. He sounds hopeful, and it helps to dispel the silent worries that Henry’s had all day about the same subject. It’s a much easier topic to agree on than Henry had expected.

“Yeah, of course I am,” Henry says immediately. He doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to stress that enough. “I’m just glad that we could talk about it like this.”

“Oh, yeah, me too,” Armie says, and just like that he’s back to his usual self, a broad grin stretching across his face as he leans back and crosses his arms behind his head. “I just can’t believe it. This is gonna be so cool. Wow. We’re gonna be… wow. Did I say thank you already?”

At this point Henry thinks Armie may be just as overwhelmed as he is. It’s endearing and it’s a total relief to see that he’s not the only one excited for an opportunity like this. “You did, but if you want to say it again… it’s my pleasure. Apparently.”

“Careful, Cowboy,” Armie teases. The word sounds radically different coming from Armie in his normal accent, but the fondness of it is so overwhelmingly familiar and comforting that Henry chuckles at it anyway. Their relationship is nothing like their characters’, really, but at the same time Henry feels as if they've forged some unspoken bond in a similar sort of way. He’s had a feeling about it from the beginning, after all. His friendship with Armie had formed so alarmingly fast that any sane man would have questioned it, and now his doubts have all but disappeared.

Now all Henry needs to worry about is Elizabeth.

With a groan, Armie gets up and ambles toward the mini-bar, and Henry watches from the couch as he rifles through the refrigerator. “Maybe I should speak with your wife,” he says at last, as Armie pulls out what looks to be a bottle of richly-coloured cognac.

“Oh, you totally should. I mean, she can probably guess since you're still here. She was really worried you were gonna, I dunno, leave the country or something. Miss out on all the touristy shit. Never speak to us again. The usual.” He makes a face. Personally, the idea of fleeing the country to escape from one little drunken adventure doesn't really appeal much to Henry either. “She’ll probably be back soon, she was just trying to give you some privacy for this. I'll let you talk to her alone, if you want, and then we can… iron everything out, or whatever you wanna… discuss…”

He waves a pair of glass tumblers around and begins to pour once Henry nods. The thought of speaking to Elizabeth one-on-one makes him both nervous and excited, which is odd because most of the time he feels very relaxed around her. It can’t be that terrible, though. Now that he knows where he stands with Armie, and now that he’s at least ninety percent sure that Elizabeth and Armie are on the same page with this, there’s probably nothing to worry about.

“Yeah, yeah, of course,” Henry agrees. Armie pours with the practiced skill of a bartender, his back to Henry for the moment, and makes an approving noise. “But we won't spend our last night in Rio just discussing, will we?”

He’s not completely serious about it. In fact, he says it on a whim, more interested in trying to feel out the new situation than anything else, but he likes the way Armie’s mouth is quirked up when he turns around.

“Never say never,” Armie advises. He hands Henry a glass, and holds his own out. “But if you ask my wife what she thinks about it, she’ll probably have some ideas for you.”

Henry touches the rim of his glass to Armie’s and smiles.


Harper sits on Henry’s knee without complaint, heads turning in sync as Elizabeth zips past. She’s on a mission to rescue a missing earring before they step out, and Henry’s sure he’s never seen somebody quite so determined to succeed. Tonight is a special night for everybody, and they’re taking advantage of having most of the crew all in one spot in San Antonio. ‘Most of the crew’ regrettably doesn't involve Guy or Alicia due to scheduling differences, but they’re making do with the people they have.

“I liked the first pair,” Henry offers, both his head and Harper’s swiveling now to follow Armie as he strides by on his way to check every windowsill and drawer in the kitchen. “I thought they matched the dress.”

He’s much more familiar with Elizabeth’s jewellery collection than he’d ever expected to be. It’s not as if he’s trying to make it into a competition, exactly, but he can't help it if he hopes Elizabeth wears the set of earrings that he’d selected over the pair she’s currently wearing. This pair happens to be Armie’s personal favourite. It's definitely not a competition.

“I might have to if I can't find this one,” Elizabeth says, exasperated. Harper takes hold of Henry’s fingers and he smiles at her, smoothing his other hand over her hair. Even she’s dressed up in her finest outfit, prepared for a fancy evening with her parents and their guests.

“You’ll look gorgeous either way,” Henry tells her, and from the back corner of the family room he hears Armie growl, “Hey, that’s my wife you're talking to.”

“Sorry,” Henry calls back, and grins at Elizabeth conspiratorially. “You’ll look gorgeous no matter what jewellery you wear, too.”

He thinks Armie says that’s better but he can't be sure; Harper has started making impatient noises at her mother, and Henry holds her out, having fulfilled his role for the time being. “I'll fetch the others,” he offers, and climbs off of his kitchen stool to make good on his word while Elizabeth calls her thanks behind him.

He passes by Armie in the hall on the way to the bedroom and spins on his heel when Armie barks, “Hey.”

“I'm not in trouble, am I?” Henry asks. Armie closes the distance between them in a stride and a half, pulling Henry into a brief but firm kiss in response.

“I just wanted to tell you that you look good too,” he says fondly, and continues to back away in the direction he’d been traveling in. “Just grab the earrings and hurry up, Elizabeth’s waiting on us.”

“Which one,” Henry asks dryly, “yours or mine?”

Armie’s laughter is loud and exaggerated as he rounds the corner, and Henry can’t help but smile to himself as he grabs the earrings, still laid out on the top of the sink in the master bathroom.

Since the events of Rio, the pair of Elizabeths in their circle of friendship has been a special source of amusement, even more so than it had been when they’d first met during filming. The joke has only gotten better with time, though it often ends up as more of a light, playful jab at Henry’s expense that involves his inability to tell two very different people apart. Luckily, a joke is all it is to them now. Henry laughs at it still, but he likes to think he's gotten very, very good at determining which Elizabeth is which.

As it turns out, he’s been kissing the correct Elizabeth after all.