Cooper walks in, Billy and JT by his side, to the sound of laughter, the smell of smoke and too much alcohol and the sight of Daly Cherry Evans half naked, half passed out on the couch with Ashley Harrison straddling his legs. All activity stops when they walk in but resumes immediately when the others realise that it's only their team mates.
"Hey, Coops, Billy, JT, come join us" Jharal yells, sitting away from the center gaggle of drunken men, with Justin's arm around his shoulders. Cooper's eyes flicker to Jharal, makes sure he is safe and snap back to Daly almost instantly.
"What do you think you're doing?" he demands and Ashley looks up at him, confused. Some of the boys take a step back, because even in their inebriated state, they can tell when Cooper's angry. And when Cooper's angry, safest place to be is out of sight or atleast out of reach.
"We thought we'd give him a proper initiation to the team, mate," Ashley offers by of an explanation.
Daly turns his head slightly towards Cooper. "'s okay."
Ashley grins, "See, he gave us permission."
Cooper takes a deep breath and feels Billy's hand reassuring and calming on his back.
"Get off him. Now!"
"Getting him drunk and raping him is initiation?" Cooper snaps and Ashley blanches.
"No- that's not-"
"I'm counting to three, if you don't move, you will spend the next three days running laps."
Ashley looks around for assistance but everyone else has already backed a safe distance away. Cooper never makes idle threats. Ashley scrambles off Daly in a hurry, holding his hands up for peace. Cooper puts him out of his mind as soon as he's off the couch and kneels down by Daly who looks at him with huge eyes.
"'ooper," he says, voice filled with wonderment.
"Idiot," Cooper mutters before turning to Billy and JT waiting beside him and Matty Ballin who has appeared out of hiding. Cooper ignores him completely.
"Help me to get him up," he says, already reaching down to pull Daly up by a hand. Billy immediately takes his other arm and together they get Daly to Cooper's room, which he shares with Cam, with minimal fuss. Matty follows with uncertain steps.
"You call yourself a friend?" Cooper snaps at him before slamming the door in his face.
He doesn't give Matty's pale face anymore thought before turning around to see Daly being safely tucked up in Cam's bed.
"Cooper-" Billy starts but Cooper waves him off.
"It's fine. I'll look after him. You two can go. I know you had plans, so…"
Billy and JT had been about to head off when Cooper had gotten the text and they had insisted in coming with him to rescue the latest addition to the Maroons from getting more than he ever would have bargained for.
"Are you sure?" JT asks and Cooper raises an eyebrow at him.
"He's passed out. How much trouble is he going to be?" he asks. He lives with Brett Finch. He's used to looking after passed out drunks.
Billy smiles. "Thanks, Coops. Call us if anything happens okay."
Cooper watches his friends heading out and sighs. He picks up a water bottle from his bag, and a couple of aspirins from his selection of medicine and puts them at the bedside table.
"What the hell were you thinking?" he wonders aloud, looking down at Daly.
"I just-" Cooper starts when Daly suddenly speaks. He is looking up at Cooper with sleepy eyes. "-wanted to be a part of the team."
"That's not the way to go about it, you idiot." Cooper keeps his voice softer than it should be because Daly looks so pathetic at the moment that he doesn’t have the heart to hurt him any further. And if he is true to himself, and he is most of the time, he likes this bright eyed kid.
"I'm sorry." Suddenly there are tears is Daly's eyes and he's crying. Cooper fights back the instinct to balk. There are only a few things Cooper would admit to being not so good at, and people crying is definitely one of them.
But he sits down by the bed anyway. Daly curls towards him gratefully.
"Don't tell Kieran, okay," Daly pleads as Cooper pets his hair, "I don't want him to know I'm such an idiot."
"Of course not," Cooper promises, slightly proud of himself for having guessed at their relationship long ago. He is generally never wrong about these things.
Daly falls asleep like that, head on Cooper's lap and hands fisted in Cooper's shirt and tear tracks drying on his face.
Cooper looks down at him and sighs again.
He wakes up and there is a warm bundle pressed against his side. Cooper frowns and opens his eyes. He sees a fuzzy blond head nestled at the crook of his neck.
Oh. Right. Daly.
He twists his head to look at the time. 7.15am. They have 45 minutes until training.
"Coops?" Daly says in a hesitant voice.
"You're awake?" Cooper asks in surprise.
Daly makes an affirmative noise but makes no move to get up.
"Thank you for looking after me," Daly says in the same quiet voice.
"How's your head?" he asks, not really knowing how to respond to Daly's sincerity.
"Hurts," Daly laughs softly.
"Here, I have-" Cooper makes to reach for the tablets and water by the bedside table but Daly holds on to him tightly and Cooper looks down at him in confusion.
"Can we stay? Like this for a little while?"
Cooper blinks but lies back down.
"You can have five minutes," he says finally.
Daly chuckles and Cooper feels it vibrate through his chest.
"I used to be scared of you, you know."
Cooper really doesn't know what to say to that either.
"You're the best half back in the game and I'm just…" Daly trails off.
"Stop fishing for compliments," Cooper says, maybe a little sharper than he intended because Daly tenses up beside him, "You know you're good. Do you think you would have made it into the best origin team in history otherwise?"
"I hope you know," Cooper tries when Daly doesn't say anything, "Your haircut is a crime against humanity."
Daly laughs and Cooper relaxes a little. "It's not that bad. Wolfie said he likes it" Daly protests.
Cooper scoffs. "Wolfie's fashion sense is still stuck in the last century. Take it from me, okay," he says, fingers combing through what little hair Daly has, "Find a better hairdresser."
"Okay," Daly gives in with a laugh, breath warm against Cooper's neck.
"That's five minutes," Cooper announces suddenly and sits up after untangling himself from Daly's long limbs. He stands up and Daly is looking up at him. He looks so young, smiling up at him like that, so innocent that all Cooper wants for a moment is to wrap him up and keep him safe.
Cooper likes to claim people. And he realises that he's already thinking of Daly as his'. He knows it's not possible to keep Daly safe from the hurts of the world. Knows life will make its way through Daly, leave him scarred and jaded. But damn it if Cooper lets that happen on his watch.
"Are you gonna lie there all day," he snaps, "Let's go!"
Daly sits up so quickly that he has to clutch a hand at his head in pain. Cooper watches him for a moment to make sure he doesn't pass out. When Daly reaches for the aspirin by the bed, Cooper finally walks off towards the shower and doesn't let Daly see the smile on his face.