It’s 3.22am when the phone rings. Marcus is asleep, has been since 11ish, but it’s pretty hard to ignore Girls Just Wanna Have Fun blaring out from somewhere beside his bed. At first he thinks it must be Liathan’s – he doesn’t even have that song on his phone, does he? But no, Liathan’s just burrowing under his pillow and grumbling something about how Marcus should pick it the fuck up, and when Marcus finally brings himself to look at the only thing lit up in the dark room, his eyes burning fiercely in protest, it’s definitely his own cell.
"Yeah?" he groans as he answers, too asleep still to have considered looking at the caller ID.
For a moment there’s silence on the other end, and he fumbles out of his room and along the corridor, for Liathan’s sake. Then an accented voice, sounding far away and drunk, says, "Oh shit!" There’s some noise like the person just picked up the phone again after having left it somewhere. "Hello, hello. Hello?"
Marcus goes into the empty common room at the end of the corridor, where orange light is filtering through the windows. As usual, nobody’s pulled down any of the blinds. "Yeah, who is this?" he asks, sitting down on one of the moulded plastic chairs.
"It’s meeeee," sing-songs the voice, and immediately Marcus remembers everything – meeting this English guy at a party with Liathan the week before and talking to him the entire night, swapping coming-out stories and joking about their awkward romantic histories, the guy sending him Girls Just Wanna Have Fun over Bluetooth. Esca.
"Oh, um, hi. What’s this about?" It was a great night, but they were both pretty drunk, and he didn’t really think Esca was going to call him. Also, there’s the whole 3am thing.
"There was, um." Esca stops and seems to lose the thread of his sentence. "I’m really drunk."
"Yeah, I got that part." Marcus means to sound sarcastic but he’s actually kind of amused. He suddenly remembers what Esca looked like that night, pink-faced from his fourth shot or maybe from laughing, holding his and Marcus’s phones together and staring at them intensely while they Bluetoothed.
"There was a thing, though," Esca says now. "You know, a thing. A powercut. That’s why I started drinking. Lost all my fucking work, didn’t I?"
"Shit, man, that’s rough. No autorecover or anything?"
Esca laughs at that, sounding a little surprised. "What a fucking boy scout you are, Marcus. No, no autorecover. It was on this stupid online thing that they make us use. Haveta start allllll over again."
"Yeah, it fucking sucks. It’s the suckingest of all the things that suck. Did I mention I’m drunk?"
He means it as a joke – so he’s not as far gone as he might be. "It might have come up, yeah." Marcus thinks of asking where Esca is, but doesn’t want it to sound off. He settles for, "You’re OK, though, right?"
"Yeah, I’m just chillin’ in my flat." Esca says it ‘me flat’, which Marcus remembers being charmed by when they met. "Um, apartment. Whatever the fuck you Americans call this thing. Drinking alone, which is the saddest thing ever, I know – but, fuck, there was like an hour’s solid work there. Shit, it’s late, isn’t it? Were you asleep?"
Surprised by the quick subject-change, Marcus doesn’t even think of lying. "Yeah."
"You could have mentioned."
Esca laughs a little at that. "Of course it’s fucking OK. Oh, Marcus, Marcus Marcus! He of the self-proclaimed fucked leg, and the disturbingly detailed knowledge of Roman weapons. Why did I even call you, Marcus the military history buff, I bet you can’t answer that one! More to the point, why did you fucking pick up? At three AM, or whatever fucking time it is?" Thankfully he doesn’t pause long enough that Marcus has to answer. "God. You know sometimes when you’re drunk and it’s like the best thing ever? Totally not what’s happening at the moment. I’m sorry, I think I’m being a dick. You shouldn’t let people like me be a dick to you, Marcus. You should tell us to fuck off. Like, I bet you never told anyone that and meant it before, right? You’re just not the type. I’m the type. It’s, like, genetic or something. You’re a genetic cabbage-leaf, and I’m a genetic – well, bastard, I s’pose, would be the technical term."
Marcus falls asleep with Esca’s cryptic drunken ramblings in his ear, and doesn’t wake until 7.30, when a couple of medical students come into the common room with their breakfast, bitching about early lectures.
Esca hung a sock over the door-handle when he came into Marcus’s room after dinner, but it’s two hours later and they’re only just getting down to it. Esca brought a textbook that he needed to read a couple of chapters of, because he knew Marcus had an essay to finish; until maybe ten minutes ago they were sitting – Marcus in the desk chair with his laptop on his knee, and Esca at the end of Marcus’s bed – with their feet touching, but their heads stuck in the Punic Wars and the principles of Marxism, respectively.
Now, though, there’s a pile of clothes at the foot of the bed and Marcus is propped on his elbow over Esca, working two slick fingers inside him. Esca’s hand is in Marcus’s hair lightly, just touching, because he knows Marcus likes it.
"Fuck, fuck," Marcus is saying as he watches Esca writhe around his hand –
And the lights go out.
"Hnnh?" Esca says.
They both still in the darkness. Marcus realises his ears are ringing like he’s just come, though he wasn’t even touching himself. "Power outage, I guess?" he says after a minute.
"Yeah," Esca agrees, kind of groaning a little, and Marcus feels him shift where they’re still joined.
"Want to stop?"
The hand in his hair tightens. "Fucking hell, no. Keep going. Faster."
Marcus does as he’s told.
"Hey dad, you wanna watch the Tonys with us?" Leo calls. "Gee found a really good stream!"
Liathan, on the sofa with Esca, looks over his shoulder at his son, who’s with Ginger at Marcus’s computer desk. They’re watching an (only slightly pixelated) girl in a sequinned dress sing a rock ballad. "No, just call me when they get to Best Musical, kiddo, OK?" He slightly knows the costume designer of one of the nominees.
"Oh f—uh, frig," Esca says then, correcting himself with a glance at the two ten-year-olds in the room. "Just remembered I never made the salad." He stands, one knee clicking. "Come with me to the kitchen, I want to hear more about Leo’s report card."
"I only got one B minus, Uncle Esca!" Leo shouts after them indignantly, and Esca laughs as he shepherds Liathan out of the room.
In the kitchen Guern has Cottia’s feet on his lap at the dining-table, and Regan and Marcus are mixing drinks at the counter. Marcus looks up when Esca comes in, but he’s in the middle of explaining about his new leg meds, so Esca just goes to the fridge for leaves and peppers.
"So yeah, they reckon this should help with the muscle spasms, if nothing else. I dunno though, it doesn’t seem much better than massage and heat packs so far."
Guern hmms thoughtfully from his seat. "You might notice the difference more as the course goes on, I guess?"
Regan’s own drink is mixed now and she’s taking one to Liathan, so Esca starts putting bottles back in their places to make room on the counter for his chopping-board. He mentally thanks all the gods of the LA suburbs yet again for the beautiful, new, large house, grimly remembering how difficult it was to entertain guests in their old apartment. He doesn’t even really miss living in the city. They were probably getting too old for it, anyhow.
Marcus is still talking about his leg, though Liathan and Regan have started discussing Leo’s report card in an undertone over by the door. Regan looks a little tired; Esca hopes she’s OK. "There’s this warning on the pills, too," Marcus is saying, pouring out carbonated water, "about only drinking in small quantities. I’m on wine spritzers tonight, so I’m basically an old woman for the duration."
Cottia laughs. "Don’t fucking talk to me about being an old woman."
"Oh, accept it, babe," Guern says companionably. "We’re only a couple years away from telling those pesky youngsters to get off our lawn. It’s inevitable."
"I already do that," Esca admits. "I don’t shake a cane at them menacingly, though I figure I could always borrow Marcus’s if I wanted to step it up a notch."
Cottia nods solemnly. "You’ve obviously considered this at length. I admire that."
"Well, if we have to get old, we might as well enjoy ourselves while we do it," Marcus says. "I miss my old body, though. Well, my young body. You know."
"Oh, we know," Cottia tells him. "Let’s not discuss that in any detail, OK? I might start sobbing uncontrollably, which always seems to ruin the mood at parties."
"Shut up, you," Guern says after a second, but it’s not a real rebuke, and if Esca can tell by Guern’s expression that he’s holding back some embarrassingly sincere and un-macho statement about how Cottia’s still as perfect and beautiful to him as the day they met, then surely Cottia can tell, too.
Esca just has time to register her smiling a flattered little smile in Guern’s direction before all the lights in the house go out.
In the darkness, someone makes a noise like huh? and somebody else laughs a little.
"OK, so I guess the power’s out," Marcus says, and in the corner a square of light dimly illuminates Liathan and Regan’s faces from below. Liathan’s phone, of course. Regan gets hers out too, holding it in front of her to test the torch-like properties and heading for the lounge to check on the kids. By the look of it, Liathan’s already on Google trying to determine the best search terms for finding out why the power’s gone off.
"Candlelit dinner then, I guess?" Cottia asks. "Unless you want us to go, guys?"
"No, don’t be silly." Esca knows she’d be gone in a heartbeat if they asked and never think to be offended, but he was enjoying himself and he intends to carry on. "We’ve got tons of candles. It can be a thing."
Marcus has obviously headed for where he last saw Esca, because his voice comes from nearer now. "We’ve got that flashlight in the car, too – I’ll go get it. Where are my keys?"
"Wherever you left them!" No good; they could be anywhere in the dark house. "Take mine, they’re hanging up by the door."
Fifteen minutes later everyone’s sitting around the table as Marcus supervises Leo and Ginger in lighting about twenty candles of assorted shapes and sizes. Esca can’t bring himself to be embarrassed that they own so many of the things, especially since he’s still busy attempting to make all the ingredients they had in their cupboards and fridge into something resembling a meal: of course, no power means no oven or stove, either. They could just order in, but that would be admitting defeat. He readjusts the torch, which is lighting up his section of the counter and all the food arranged over it. Maybe just a buffet from here, then?
"Careful, light that one at the back first or you’ll have to reach over the flame," Marcus says to Ginger, who’s sitting on his lap, and Esca looks up from cutting carrot sticks to watch his shadowed outline for a second behind the candlelit figure of Gee.
"I’m being careful, Uncle Marcus," Ginger's saying, but not petulantly.
"I know you are, honey." And she’s finished lighting her half of the candles, jumping down from the table to leave Marcus lit softly by a handful of flickering lights. When he flicks his gaze up for a second towards Esca’s little torchlit enclave on the counter, waiting for Leo to take the chair beside him, Esca looks away before their eyes can meet.
Liathan eventually found a number to call, and waited on hold until somebody told him there was a storm causing trouble with the power grids upstate and they could expect the power to be back on by midnight. The candlelit buffet dinner went off without a hitch, unless you counted the as-yet-unknown location of a small dollop of hummus, which Leo shamefacedly confessed to Esca he had accidentally let fly from the end of a piece of lettuce during a particularly extravagant hand gesture. He was pretending to be his dad at the time, so Esca let him off. That was pretty much exactly the sort of thing Liathan would do.
Esca decides to agree when Marcus tells him that they’ll clear up after the lights come back on. He helps to move all the candles into the lounge, and joins in when Guern starts teaching the kids how to play some obscure Italian card game which Cottia insists he’s just making up as he goes along. Esca and Regan are barely picking it up better than the ten-year-olds, but it’s fun anyhow. Marcus and Liathan are elsewhere, probably in the kitchen running down the batteries on the torch so they can catch up in private. Although, actually, Esca wouldn’t put it past them just to talk in the dark, or by the light of Liathan’s phone.
But he can hear footsteps in the corridor now anyway, so evidently they’ve got whatever they wanted off their chests, and Esca’s going to have to hide his hand so that Marcus, who Guern says he taught the game to already, doesn’t confuse things by interfering. Esca looks up as the two silhouettes come through the doorframe – Liathan's lanky and loping, Marcus's solid and moving with a slight limp.
Then Marcus heads straight for Esca, draping himself warmly over his back and mumbling something incoherent about the Punic Wars, and Esca knows right away what’s happened.
So does Liathan, evidently. "I’m so sorry, Esca," he says as he drops into the chair beside Regan, slurring just a little, and Marcus starts humming a tune into Esca’s collar. "We just didn’t notice until... well."
"You had more wine," Esca says over his own shoulder. "Too much wine."
"It’s OK, baby," Marcus hums, his hands wandering over Esca’s chest. "I didn’t have too much. I don’t know why I feel all weird – it’s like I drank loads, but I didn’t, funny huh?"
"It’s your leg pills," Esca says sternly, trying to pry him off. "It isn’t funny at all."
"Shhhh, my leg feels fiiiiine," Marcus slurs. "Don’t worry about it. Don’t worry at all..."
Awkwardly – Marcus may be alert enough to feel him up, but he’s still essentially a dead weight – Esca stands, and untangles his legs from his chair so that he can turn. When he touches Marcus’s face, trying to get a decent look at his eyes in the candlelight, it makes Marcus still a little, but he keeps on talking. "Hey, remember that power outage we had in college, when we were in bed? And we were like, oh my god, I mean – you remember, right? It was great, wasn't it?"
Esca hears Guern snort at that, but Cottia’s manfully asking Leo and Ginger what was happening on the Tonys when the power went out and Esca thanks her mentally. "Time to go to bed, Uncle Marcus," he says, manhandling his stupid boyfriend out of the room.
"You know you’re awesome, right?" Marcus is babbling now. "I mean, it’s like, I guess we’re getting old, and I have love handles now, which is totally not cool – but I hope you know I still think you’re awesome."
"I know," Esca says darkly, manoeuvring them in the direction of the door, but Marcus isn’t really listening, still muttering about his love handles. Esca kind of likes them, actually, but now’s hardly the time to mention it.
Liathan gives him another apologetic look as Esca drags Marcus past, then sinks his head onto Regan’s shoulder drunkenly. She makes a face at Esca like, what can you do? Esca’s not angry at Liathan at all, and he’d stick around to say it, only Marcus is full-on groping his arse now and singing Tiny Dancer at the same time. Well, attempting to sing it. Esca plants his hands firmly on Marcus’s shoulders and steers him towards the bedroom. Most likely, it’s going to take a little work on Esca’s part to convince him to go to sleep.
When Marcus wakes up, he’s in bed with Esca, who’s reading Ginsberg by lamplight. Amazingly, his brain manages to focus on the page over Esca’s shoulder for long enough that Marcus can actually identify the poem before his hangover catches up with him, feeling kind of like a speeding train with a cargo of red-hot rocks.
Fuck. He groans, pressing his face into the pillow.
"Hello, dopey. Back with us?"
Marcus can’t think of any answer that would be more appropriate than another groan.
"It’s possible – I mean, it’s just possible – that your leg meds have affected your ability to metabolise alcohol, isn’t it, babe?" Esca says brightly. Marcus feels him turning over and risks re-opening one eye so he can try and determine the sentiment behind the words. Is Esca kidding or is he really pissed? Bits and pieces of the evening begin to come back, sluggishly, through the haze in Marcus’s head.
"I was pretty bad, wasn’t I." He’s trying to concentrate on Esca’s face, his beloved Esca, but now he’s remembering all the stupid, embarrassing shit he said, and – "Did I try to call my mom before you took my cell away?"
"Yes. You were going to ask her to sing you a lullaby. Then you asked me to sing you a lullaby." After a second, Esca adds lightly, looking away: "It wasn’t exactly dignified."
"Fuck, I’m sorry. I should have been more careful with the wine, but Liathan and I were talking, and..."
"It’s OK. We’ll know again."
Marcus feels himself frown deeply. "I’m sorry you had to take care of me. I hate that you always have to do that."
"Thirteen fucking years now," Esca says quietly, but he’s looking back at Marcus again. "Just as well you’re a bit of all-right. Shame about the love handles, though."
"Fuck off!" But he’s laughing as he pulls Esca on top of him. When the bedside lamp goes out, leaving the room in darkness, he just laughs some more.
"Another one?" Esca says rhetorically. "Well, now you can do all the things you promised to do to me when you were blind drunk in the last powercut, I suppose?"
"I wish I could," Marcus tells him, meaning it despite how sore he is. "But I’ll give you a handjob. And we’ll kiss. And it’ll be good. And then I have to go to sleep again."
Esca laughs at that and presses closer in the dark, his skin cool like always against Marcus’s aching body. "I’ll take it."