Summary: Over the years, a pair of rugby boots and a cup of tea help document the progression of a friendship.
Oh, and just a warning, I had a playlist composed predominantly of Disney songs for this fic, along with "Wonderful Tonight" by Eric Clapton, so don't blame me if it's cheesy in parts. Lol.
Disclaimer: I own nothing that you recognise.
October 4th, 1943
"Would you like to come to the pictures tonight?" Pole asked, as she entered the common room, blowing on her tea to cool it down. Scrubb was already in there, trying frantically to finish his Latin prep for the next day. She tugged his book away from him, in order to get his full attention. "It's Tate's birthday, and Holiday Inn is showing."
"You've already seen it three times," Scrubb pointed out. "I'd love to know why you like it so much."
Pole shrugged. "It's a good film."
"I won't argue that point with you." Scrubb retrieved his Latin. "But as much as I would love to watch a terrible film that I've already seen twice-both times somewhat against my will-with the silliest girl in the world-" Pole kicked him in the shins (unnecessarily hard, he felt) and he protested that he had meant Tate.
"It doesn't matter. She's still my friend. You should at least pretend to like her. It's not nice to say things like that about her."
"Well-put. Anyway, I think that you were about to offer me a feeble excuse as to why you can't come tonight."
"I have rugby practice," Scrubb replied defensively.
"You don't play rugby," was the sceptical response.
"I'll have you know I play it twice a week whilst you and Tate are in lacrosse." Scrubb rubbed the bridge of his nose. "And Peterson has forced me to start playing in the house team along with him."
"I believe it's called blackmail. I think there's a law against it."
"Ooh," Pole replied, interested. "I'm all ears. Tell me."
"Not on your life." When she glared at him, he sighed. "Pole..."
"Fine, fine." She scowled at him. "Did it involve me? Is that why you won't tell me?"
She subsided, then snatched his prep back off him. "This is terrible!" she exclaimed. "It's absolutely full of mistakes." She took his pen and began to make corrections, all the time muttering to herself. Scrubb didn't object. One day, he would understand that she was disappointed and therefore making herself disagreeable; right then, he was just glad to have a (relatively) flawless piece of prep to hand in the next day.
December 12th, 1944
"I hate rugby," Scrubb complained, rubbing an injured shin. He was sitting in the common room with Pole, and she had been listening unsympathetically to his whining. "I hate rugby. I hate-"
"I hear you," Pole said drily. "In fact, I heard you the first time. Do you know what I hate?"
"Listening to me whine?" Scrubb guessed, perceptively.
Pole let her silence speak for itself. The kettle started groaning (never whistling; the kettle in their common room seemed to have some sort of chronic respiratory condition) and she got up to make the tea in what Scrubb nearly mistook for a huff. It was only when she called casually over her shoulder that she wasn't putting sugar in his tea ("It takes the taste away!") that he realised that she was just being Pole, not cross at all. As she curled back into her chair, she pushed his cup across the table; boring, she always called it, with "E. C. Scrubb" written on the bottom so that it wouldn't get muddled with the others. The "C" was still a mystery to her: even Pole was not going to find out about the tragicomedy that was his full name.
Besides, she'd only go and call him Clara.
"Little birdie told me you're playing in the game on Saturday," she said conversationally, sipping out of her own cup; bright red and horribly chipped, it was hardly sanitary to drink out of something with that much glue in the walls, but Pole wouldn't sacrifice it, for reasons she'd never told him. "I'll pass your apologies to Hunton." Hunton was their archery teacher.
"Oh, gosh. I forgot all about that." He took a mouthful of his drink, and grimaced; it tasted strongly of tea, whereas he much preferred to taste only sugar.
"Thought you might have done. Anyway, well done and all that. Apparently it took Peterson a year to break into the House XV."
"Oh, so the little birdie was Tate."
"Evidently." She grinned. "Might even come and watch the game. You never know, do you?"
They sat in companionable silence for a few moments, before Scrubb spoke up. "We ought to have lessons on a different day, in that case. Games are always going to be on a Saturday, and you've got your glees more often than not."
Pole shrugged. "Or I could have lessons on one day and you another."
That idea made Scrubb feel slightly panicky deep inside, though he couldn't have analysed it if he'd tried; instead, he said quickly, "That would defeat the point, wouldn't it? When we get there-fat lot of good we'll be if we can't work as a team." He saw Pole's laughing eyes, and added, "well, we can work on the squabbling, can't we?"
Pole bit her lip, still highly amused. "I suppose we can. But what fun would that be?"
October 3rd, 1945
Scrubb emerged from the changing rooms nursing his arm, and trying to rub mud off of his face at the same time. He didn't hate rugby the way he had when he had first started playing, but he wasn't yet able to defend himself against some of the more monstrous players (despite a recent, and rapid, growth spurt). There was a cut on his left cheek and a bump on his forehead. Due to the lack of mirrors in the boys' pavilion, however, he was completely unaware of this. At least, he was until he walked into the common room.
Jill (no, Pole; where had that come from?) looked up as he entered. She was looking exceptionally nice, he noticed vaguely, with her fairish curls slipping out of their knot and falling into her face.
He really had to stop paying attention to things like that.
"Tea," she said shortly, nodding to a brimming, steaming cup on the table, next to her own empty one. Scrubb picked up the cup as he sat, and began to sip it gratefully. He'd given up fighting the battle for sugared tea; she'd announced that his taste buds and his fillings would both thank her when he was seventy, and he hadn't the heart to disillusion her. "What have you been doing to yourself, you silly lad?"
Scrubb was briefly confused, before he noticed the direction of her gaze. He raised two fingers to his forehead, and wasn't particularly surprised to find an egg-shaped lump developing there.
"Practice was a bit rough today," he explained. "Thanks for the tea."
She shrugged. "If it were me, I'd want tea." She smiled and pushed some papers across the table. "And completed English prep. You did an appalling job of explaining the significance of Caliban, but it's all better now. Now hurry up with that Biology extract."
"Do you think it's cheating?" Scrubb asked, suddenly concerned. "Doing each others' prep?"
She paused for a minute. "No. It's pooling our respective intellects. If I objected to doing your prep, or I didn't know that's what I was doing, it would be cheating. Besides, I didn't actually do your prep for you. I just took your ideas and made them better."
"You're just saying that because I owe you an extract," Scrubb replied, but he was reassured anyway. "Are you coming to the game on Saturday?"
"There's a glee for the governors," Jill responded. (Pole, Pole). "I'm singing in it, but I'll probably turn up for the second half. Nothing better to do. Tate will be there to watch Peterson, after all." Scrubb rolled his eyes. "Oh, don't be so cynical. I think it's sweet."
"You're a girl," Scrubb pointed out.
Pole huffed (yes, Pole). "Why is that relevant?"
"Never mind." Seeing her indignant face, he burst out laughing. "Did you know that there's a special showing of Holiday Inn at the pictures on Friday?"
October 11th, 1946
"Oh, don't make such a daft fuss," Jill (Pole; oh, never mind) said, mock-scolding, as they walked away from the changing rooms. He had emerged to find her waiting for her, huddling in the unseasonal cold with paper cups of tea in her hands. She had handed one to him unceremoniously. "It doesn't look that bad." She wiped a remnant of mud away from Eustace's eye. "That's quite a shiner he gave you."
"You just said it didn't look that bad!"
"It doesn't." Eustace looked at her suspiciously. "It suits you, rather." She almost blushed then, before she caught herself and told him he was being silly. "Though if you break a bone playing any 'nasty common sport', I'm sure your mother will go spare, and possibly bring some sort of litigation against the school. Or me."
Eustace grinned. "She's not that bad." He desperately wanted to ask why Jill had come down to the pitch to met him from practice, but somehow he was worried about doing so. It probably had to do with the fact that she looked slightly bewitching, cheeks pink from the cold, and huddled down in her coat.
Oh, this was daft. She was his best friend, after all.
"Pole?" he asked. "Something wrong?"
"Oh." He actually sounded disappointed that everything was fine, he realised to his horror. Urgently, he tried to explain himself. "It's just that, well, I wondered why you'd come down. I thought you had choir practice."
Jill gave him an odd look. "Choir is on Mondays and Saturdays."
And it was a Tuesday. Eustace kicked himself.
"It just feels like we haven't talked in a while." She pulled at her collar. "About Narnia," she qualified, quickly.
"Oh." Eustace realised that she was right. They hadn't spoken about Narnia in weeks.
Or anything, actually.
Maybe that was why she was there.
"In fact, I've hardly seen you since you started preparing for that big inter-house tournament," she continued. She sounded... almost angry? Well, that was inexplicable. And daft. It wasn't, well, it wasn't as if he was going out of his way to avoid her! It was just part of the price of being in the team. Jill obviously realised that, because she sounded much cheerier when she next spoke. "When do you play Barton?"
"And the tournament finishes then?"
"Unless we win," he replied. "But we won't. We've never beaten Barton."
"I'll be sure to be there," she promised. "To watch you lose."
"You just said it yourself," she objected.
"Yes, but it's the same principle that if you said you were ugly, and I agreed with you-not that I would," he said hastily, "of course I wouldn't, you're perfectly nice looking... but if I did, you would probably hit me."
He had abandoned her and then insulted her. However, he was also Eustace, tragically born devoid of tact, and, as a result, she decided to forgive him. "To watch you draw, then," she compromised. "What? You won't get me to say that you're going to win."
Eustace sighed, but he couldn't keep the act up, because Jill was positively brimming with laughter, and after all, it was nice to be forgiven.
October 3rd, 1947
Eustace looked at Jill. Jill looked back. She had withheld from commenting until then-until he had a cup of tea and a slice of cake in front of him-but he knew it would come soon.
"It wasn't that catastrophic a defeat," Jill said tentatively.
There it was.
He sighed. "Pole, how much do you know about rugby?"
There was silence.
"It wasn't catastrophic, Pole, it was positively titanic."
There was a pause, and she tapped a finger against the side of her cup. Third years, and they'd been given permission to leave the school grounds on Saturdays, without any of the kafuffle that had accompanied it before, so she'd brought him out to their favourite tearoom to cheer him up. "Drink," she instructed him. He thought, vaguely, that he should be paying for her tea and not the other way around.
Eustace took a morose mouthful of his tea, and noticed that Jill wasn't even stealing forkfuls of his cake. Obviously, she truly had the best of intentions today. (He'd once asked her why, if she liked the carrot cake so much, she didn't order it herself. The reply had been cryptic).
"So why's this so bad?" she asked. "All teams lose every now and then, don't they?"
Eustace had to admit that they did, and took another gulp of tea (she'd ordered it very sweet, just the way he liked it; another concession, for normally she ordered his tea just the way she liked it).
"So it doesn't matter and you boys are just being silly," she concluded in an authoritatively cheerful tone, looking at him firmly.
"No, Pole, it does matter. For me most of all."
She blinked at him.
"That's charmingly egoistic. What proof do you have?"
Eustace rolled his eyes. "Pole, what was today?"
"A rugby match. Against Abbey."
"What else was today?"
"Saturday?" When she saw the irritation in his eyes, she quickly retracted, and thought for a few moments. Suddenly, it dawned on her. "Your first match for the school team!"
Eustace nodded into his tea.
"Goodbye, First XV," he said, with forced casualness.
"Eustace, when you're old enough to play for the First XV, everyone will have forgotten about this anyway."
"Pole, we lost 102-3. That is-at least-a school record, if not a national one."
"Well, it wasn't your fault."
Eustace didn't answer, digging at the floor with his shoe.
She reached out and patted his hand in a consolatory way, a gesture she had apparently learnt from Tate. It was very unexpected, and made him regret all the times he'd criticised the latter; in fact, he was suddenly very grateful for the time the two girls had spent together.
He wasn't sure, but he suspected that, now, he might almost be happy that they'd lost.
October 21st, 1948
By this point in the match, the pitch was eight parts mud to one part grass, or something similar. One small patch of green had survived, about two by two, slightly beyond the try-line, but other than that, Jill couldn't distinguish between muddy lads, muddy ball, and a very, very muddy Eustace. She would never understand the rules of rugby, but she came to the matches anyway, and cheered enthusiastically. To start with, she had cheered indiscriminately as well, not able to work out when Experiment House was winning and when they were losing, but Tate (who had a far better understanding of the game) had taken to hitting her whenever the latter was the case.
Of course, Eustace had tried to explain the rules to Jill innumerable times; it has always been a favourite male past-time, attempting to clarify sports to uninitiated feamles; however, after the umpteen-and-fourth, she had bopped him in the arm with The Hunchback of Notre-Dame and changed the subject, to their mutual relief. After that point, she had simply relied on Tate's instinct; after all, she had pointed out drily, he made no effort whatsoever to understand the difference between a cantata and an aria.
Dance wasn't really the same as rugby, he had protested, at which point she had hit him again, before wandering off to engage in a more meaningful conversation with someone else. (He still didn't understand what he had said wrong, and had been bothered that she thought Peterson more enlightened than him).
Anyway, the match was finished, though he didn't expect her to know that, and he was slowly peeling himself away from three other muddy bodies, two of which belonged to members of the other team. They'd won hands-down, and were now nearly fifty points in front (they always beat that particular team, but a victory was a victory). He looked up into the crowd, to see Jill and Tate standing up in their seats, and halloing heartily. Jill was leaning so far forward, in her enthusiasm, that she was going to fall down onto the heads of those in front of her in a minute; he shook his head fondly. The little gold cross she always wore round her neck (it had been given to her by her now dear-departed older brother) had slipped out from underneath her blouse, and it was shining in the sun. It was the only thing he could make out from that distance, and with mud clogging up his vision.
At last disentangling himself from the mass of bodies, he stood up and began to wipe the dirt off of his face, walking over to the rugby master for a quick pep talk. Henley was bellowing in the way characteristic of games masters the world over; Eustace couldn't really understand a word he was saying. Apparently, this was a congratulations speech of sorts. Once Henley had finished his enthusing, and encouraged them to turn up for practice the next day, Eustace walked off, surprised to find Jill standing with Tate at the edge of the field. Tate was already running up to Peterson, full of bubbling optimism; Jill remained at the side, not wanting to give him the wrong impression, he supposed. He grinned and sped up, reaching her in a few seconds.
"Not a bad game overall," Jill commented as he got there. "Your scrumming could do with a little work."
Eustace raised an eyebrow. "What's scrumming then, Pole?"
"Er... when the ball goes over the tall white thing," she guessed wildly. "The goalsticks?"
He smiled. "You're very unique, Pole."
"Of course I am," Jill replied, falling into step beside him as he set off. "Where are we going?"
"Well, I have to go back to the Pavilion to wash and get changed, so I've no idea where you're going. The Head isn't quite that liberal."
She turned absolutely red to her roots, and began to walk backwards very fast. The overall effect was quite entertaining, but he had pity on her, and called across the field (she was already several feet away, such is the power of embarrassment), "Cup of tea in town when we're done?"
The blood was beginning to fade away from her traumatised cheeks. "I'll see you in a while, then."
Eustace laughed-he couldn't help it-and Jill joined in, neither of them quite knowing why. "Till then, Pole."
October 5th, 1949
"Hello, Scrubb," Jackle said, in a sugary tone, batting her eyelids at Eustace as he entered the common room. She was sitting on the counter of their kitchenette, waiting for the kettle to boil. "Tea? You played terribly well yesterday."
Eustace blinked. "Er, thank you," he replied, "I mean no thank you. I mean no tea," and hurried away, only to be accosted by Pennyfather.
"There's a very good play on at the Arms tomorrow night," the girl suggested. Eustace shied away from her-she practically had her arm around him. "And I'm all without an sweetheart."
"That's a shame," he commiserated, and began to back out of the room again nervously. On the way, however, he met with a further attack. Page walked right up to him and started fiddling with one of the buttons on his cuff. He snatched his hand away. Not to be deterred, she tried very hard to gaze deeply into his eyes.
Unfortunately for her, his attention was engaged elsewhere.
"Pole!" he exclaimed thankfully, heading for her. She was sitting in their corner of the common room, and had been watching the proceedings with raised eyebrows. As he approached, she shifted over to let him sit down. "Please tell me what's going on." Neither of them had ever entirely understood Experiment House etiquette, but she had a slightly better grip of it than he did.
"The team list is up," she replied. He noticed that she sounded particularly snippy, but had more important things to worry about.
"I know, I was just looking at it." Poor Eustace sounded as bewildered as ever.
"You're in the first eleven to play Harrow."
"Well, yes." He turned a little red. "But that doesn't explain all the... all the..." He gestured at the inhabitants of the common room.
"Um... that." Eustace was more generally regarded as a rare type of amoeba by the femme fatales of his year. Perhaps they occasionally copied off of him in maths tests, but he had never had to cope with this kind of undivided attention before. It was very unsettling, and he wondered how Peterson coped with it.
"You're in the First XV," she repeated, and now she sounded downright irritated. "To play Harrow. And only just sixteen. That places you firmly in the Experiment House Most Eligible. Charmingly shallow!"
Eustace went from pink to bright scarlet. Oh. "Er, Pole-"
"Which means that all those pretty, brainless little bits you've just encountered are going to start clinging to you like flies to-to-" He voice was rising crossly, and she ran a hand though her excitable curls, making them even fluffier than before. "To-"
"Dung," Eustace supplied helpfully. "Pole, why does it matter?"
"Sit down, Jill. People are looking."
She obeyed at the sound of her Christian name, pulling her hair back out of her face. Her eyes were still glinting, alternate green and grey, but she seemed a little calmer. Eustace privately (very privately) thought that she looked beautiful when she was angry. "Sorry. It's just so stupid. So superficial."
Suddenly he had a realisation. "Are you jealous?"
"Jill, I wasn't born yesterday."
"Not because I want to be flirting with you, or anything horrid like that!" she said quickly. Eustace's spirits performed an unaccountable nosedive. "But Tate is already one of the pretty, popular people. If you go off and start carrying Jackle's books for her-"
"You can be silly at times, Jill." He blushed. "Didn't you see how uncomfortable all... that made me? And Jackle of all people! Pole," (she noticed that he had reverted to her surname, but tried not to let it bother her; it was a daft thing to get upset about) "Pole, that girl had called you any number of names, any number of times. Do you really think that I would be interested in a girl that has made my best friend so miserable?" He paused, and started twiddling the button on his cuff; it was what he always did in awkward situations with Jill. The blue button was hanging off by a thread. "Besides..."
"What?" She looked up at him. (When in the world had he become so ridiculously tall? He looked every inch the rugby player. She looked away again).
"Nothing." Then, a little bolder, "she never came to practice to hear how my day was. And if I really wanted to pick somebody's books to carry..." he twisted one of the unfathomable curls around his finger, "that's the kind of girl I'd choose."
Inspired because I was watching some guy friends of mine playing rugby, very happily (if I can't marry a soldier, I'm at least going to marry a rugby player :D:D), and then I thought "Wouldn't it be AWESOME if Eustace played rugby, and Jill saw?" And then I was listening to She Moves In Her Own Way by the Kooks, the first verse of which is, as far as I can tell, about a very pretty shallow girl flirting with a guy cause he's in a band, but he's already in love with someone who loves him for who he is. So I thought "It would be even AWESOMER if beautiful girls started flirting with Eustace for no apparent reason." Because, you see, I often write jealous!Eustace, but never jealous!Jill. (There is more canon evidence for Eustace to have a crush on Jill than the other way round. Also, Eustace is more fun to write, because he's so disgruntled all the time).
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