Warning: Contains slashy things
Disclaimer: I am not Tom Stoppard any more than Stoppard is Shakespeare.
Written for the prompt of "PIRATES!" And also because of an in-joke from the show I helped out with a year or two ago. Our Ros and Guil had to, for reasons I've now forgotten the specifics of, untie and retie their belts while in the barrels in the third act. There wasn't a lot of time for this, so more often than not they reemerged still rearranging their clothes, and it was a point of much amusement. I think it was Guil who joked about wanting to crawl out wiping her mouth, too… Which doesn't actually happen in this fic, but I was thinking it. And thought I'd share. XP
Everything is yelling and chaos, and, really, they should be used to this by now. Well, maybe not the yelling, but…
They've managed to wedge themselves into the same barrel and, somehow, tamp down the lid from the inside. It's pitch black, and for a moment Guildenstern wishes he had a match. Then he realizes that with their luck lighting one would provide light in the form of the entire barrel catching on fire, so he lets it go and tries to figure out exactly how they're jammed in there.
After some consideration, he decides that it's entirely possible that they were shoved into the barrel by someone else and he's just forgotten who. That seems more likely, because if given any choice in the matter he definitely wouldn't choose to have one leg pinned between Rosencrantz's knees and chest or the other leg pinned between Rosencrantz's back and the side of the barrel or Rosencrantz's elbow placed dangerously near his nether regions. Or at least he thinks that's Rosencrantz's elbow. Guildenstern isn't sure where his own elbows are; he's beginning to suspect that his arms have fallen asleep.
"Do you think it's safe yet?" Rosencrantz whispers. He sounds… a little frightened, but also rather resigned. Maybe they are getting used to this sort of thing – or at least one of them, but it's still difficult sometimes for Guildenstern to tell one from the other (or north from south, or a hawk from a handsaw).
Guildenstern starts to shake his head before he realizes how pointless that is. "I still hear shouting," he whispers back.
Abruptly, as if to reinforce the point, something thumps loudly against the outside of the barrel. Rosencrantz jerks towards Guildenstern, away from the side he's shoved up against and, yes, that is his elbow, but at least he mostly missed anything especially sensitive…
"What was that?" Rosencrantz hisses, and Guildenstern nearly jumps out of his skin because the other man's voice is now practically at his ear.
A few inches to the left and their heads would have smashed together. He can also feel breath on his cheek and his friend leaning against his chest. It's actually reassuring, even though he doesn't know the answer to the question.
"Pirates?" he guesses.
Rosencrantz hair brushes against his cheek. (What, Guildenstern is momentarily distracted in wondering, is he doing that would cause that? In the dark it's nearly impossible to tell.) "Oh," he whispers sheepishly. "Right."
It's impossible for Guildenstern to not let out a mildly exasperated sigh. "You forgot?"
"Well, I…" Sounding embarrassed, Rosencrantz shifts back towards his side of the barrel – not that it makes much of a difference.
All the movement really does in their cramped quarters is cause Guildenstern a rather… awkward sort of discomfort, because Rosencrantz's hip is right between his legs. Guildenstern bites his lip to keep from letting out some sort of yelp and reminds himself that this is the only way two grown men could fit into the same barrel together.
"It doesn't make much of a difference, does it?" Rosencrantz whispers.
Guildenstern blinks in the darkness. "What?"
"Remembering," the other man replies softly. "Understanding. If we do, or if we don't… it never seems to have much bearing on anything that happens."
"But we do have our bearings," Guildenstern whispers back. He hears the uncertainty in his own voice and… doesn't know what to do about it. With a deep breath, he soldiers on. "We're going to England."
"England," Rosencrantz repeats, sounding doubtful.
Guildenstern opens his mouth to continue – but haven't they already been over this before? What England is, or isn't, and if it even matters… There are still muffled shouts and thuds coming somewhere outside of their hiding place, and all that means is that everything is in shambles.
They already know that. They should be used to it by now.
But Guildenstern prizes one arm out of its wedged position and tries to give his friend a reassuring pat on the back, or shoulder, whatever he can find in the dark, because they aren't used to it and probably don't know how to ever be.
Tries. What his hand (which is all over pins-and-needles) finds is the side of Rosencrantz's head, turned toward him and bowed. Guildenstern's thumb lands on his eyebrow, ring finger in his ear, and palm close enough to his eye to feel eyelashes. "Sorry," he mumbles, but Rosencrantz leans into the hand, accepting the clumsy comfort.
"Any minute now," Rosencrantz whispers, barely louder than a breath. Guildenstern can feel stubble rasping slightly against his palm. "Any minute now, someone's going to bang on the lid and tell us to come out. There's always someone, telling us what to do…"
And suddenly, Guildenstern is aware, with a revelatory awe of Old Testament proportions, that Rosencrantz doesn't want anyone to bang on the lid. As cramped a haven as it is, the barrel serves to keep the world (which has been treating them rather coldly of late) temporarily shut out. And he realizes, with equally startling clarity, that he doesn't want to leave the barrel either – strongly enough that he can ignore the fact that various parts of himself have fallen asleep.
Just as suddenly he feels something on his knee and jumps, hissing, "What's that?"
"I thought I was putting my hand on my knee," Rosencrantz replies sheepishly.
Guildenstern stares at where he knows Rosencrantz's face must be, but he might as well have his eyes closed. "That's my knee."
"Oh." There is a slight pause; Rosencrantz doesn't move his hand. "Yes, I can feel that now."
"Nothing," Rosencrantz replies, naturally as anything. "There isn't anything on either of my knees."
Guildenstern sighs and waits curiously to see if Rosencrantz will move his hand, correct the mistake. When he doesn't, Guildenstern begins to wonder if it was one. It feels right, somehow, as if the barrel is a too tightly wrapped security blanket that has in some peculiar way been their destination all along. He wants to tell Rosencrantz this but the words are clumsy-heavy on his tongue; he can't think of a way to explain it properly. And he should, he should be able to…
Without thinking, he leans forward. Just a little. It doesn't take much.
Their noses bump. Rosencrantz makes a surprised little noise in the dark, almost a squeak. And suddenly Guildenstern is thinking about what he's doing – wondering, ironically, what on earth he was thinking – but this, he realizes, is all right. In the darkness, in the privacy of it, this is just as good as any other form of communication.
Their lips brush and Rosencrantz squeaks again. Guildenstern moves his thumb gently, reassuringly, back and forth along the other man's cheekbone. It's all right, he thinks, we're safe… He can say it just as well with touch as he could with words. Rosencrantz leans closer to him, radiating vaguely confused relief.
The kiss is chaste, but every time Guildenstern begins to pull away Rosencrantz's hand grips his knee tightly, so he doesn't. Instead, his hand creeps into his friend's hair and pulls them closer together (setting aside, for the moment, that this is actually physically impossible).
Every movement and every quick gasp of a breath they manage to catch is an exultant, 'In spite of all the confusion, we're still all right.' The world outside can go hang.
Later, when the pirates have gone, they clamber out of their hiding place with weak, wobbly limbs, as if still in search of their sea legs. Rosencrantz sways and grabs onto Guildenstern's shoulder to stay upright; Guildenstern holds on to the edge of the barrel.
Guildenstern wonders nervously if anyone else notices Rosencrantz wiping at the corners of his mouth with his sleeve, though he is trying to be discrete… Neither of them are nearly so sure of themselves now that they're out in the open. But Rosencrantz gives him a dazed little smile, and Guildenstern hopes that, maybe, they've managed to cling to at least a little bit of that certainty, that secure feeling. They've still got each other, haven't they?
He promises himself that they'll have each other till the end. And even if, deep down, he knows that he has no power to make such a vow, he lets himself lie.