Disclaimer: I do not own Hollyoaks or any of the characters mentioned in this fic.
Brendan rested his head against the cool wood of his desk briefly with a sigh, before sitting up straight again and glaring at the spreadsheet in front of him. Either Cheryl or Warren had been doing something wrong (unintentionally or no) because these numbers just didn't add up. His pen hovered above the page for a few seconds before he threw it down in disgust, deciding this task would be a lot easier if he had a drink or five in him. He stood up and shrugged his jacket back on before making his way out into the main area of the club. They'd only just opened so there wasn't anyone around yet. He bypassed Cheryl and Warren, grabbed the whiskey bottle and a tumbler, and practically collapsed into a chair at the bar, pouring himself a generous measure and downing it in one.
"Books going well, are they?" Warren asked, eyebrow raised. Brendan smirked as he poured another drink.
"Oh, fantastically. Tell me, Foxy, did you ever actually attend a maths lesson at school?"
Warren grinned. "No, I tended to prefer spending my time with the girls, mate."
"Oi! Cheeky." Cheryl squealed, giving him a light slap on the arm.
"Only one girl for me these days, mind." Warren squeezed her waist.
"You better believe it." She smiled, and Brendan's smile died a little. He had no proof Warren was messing his sister around but he suspected. He swore to God that if Warren ever hurt her he would break his neck without a second thought…that train of thought of course immediately brought Danny to the forefront of his mind and he downed another double measure quickly. It was over, done. And he'd deserved it anyway. Threatening Steven…
His eyes drifted down the bar to where his barman was working - or rather, not working. There wasn't anyone to serve. But he was talking to someone. It took Brendan a second to place him, but then he realised. That guy from the gym, the queer one. He clenched his fists, but didn't move. Steven was allowed to have friends after all. He forced himself to look away but then before he could the guy leant over the bar and said something softly in Ste's ear and he giggled. Ste didn't giggle with his friends. He did that adorable snorting laugh of his. This was different, seemed more intimate, more private. And the man was definitely looking at him with interest as they laughed softly together. He was hitting on Steven.
Brendan felt sick. Without another word he stood up and stalked over to where the two men were chatting. Steven looked up and saw him, his smile fading.
"I don't pay you to chat. Get back to work."
"Aw, but there's nothing to do! There's not even any customers yet!"
"I'm sure you can find something to do. Do a stock check, clean the bar, I don't care."
"I'm not keeping him from his work. Nothing needs doing, really." the man protested. Brendan rounded on him.
"Who are you, again?"
"Noah." He smiled and held a hand out. Brendan just glared at it.
"Well, 'Noah', perhaps you should just let me decide whether my staff have any work to do, alright?"
"Oh, leave off, Bren." Cheryl called. "He's only having a chat. It's not doing any harm."
"If he wants to chat he can clock out! I pay him to work."
"I used to chat to Rae all the time, though, that never bothered you!"
"That's different; Rae was a gir…ha. Hmm. Yes." He put his hands on his hips, feeling decidedly awkward for the slip. Ste looked stunned. Noah narrowed his eyes and stood up straighter.
"Rae was a girl, you mean." he said. "So it's the whole gay thing you have a problem with, rather than Ste not working?"
"I have a problem with you."
"Bren!" Cheryl chastised, shocked. Noah glanced at her.
"Leave it, Cheryl, its fine. I've met loads of blokes like him before."
"You really haven't." Brendon smiled dangerously, stepping subtly into Noah's personal space.
"Yeah, I really have." Noah very deliberately looked Brendan up and down, a sneer on his lips. "You're nothing special. Just another homophobic tosser with some sort of complex."
"Right, get out."
"Oh, so now you're barring me for being gay?"
"No, I'm barring you for mouthing off. Get the hell out of my club."
"Fine. I will." Noah looked at Steven. "I'll see you later, ok?"
"Right. Later. Yeah."
Noah started to walk off, then stopped and turned back to Brendan.
"Just for the record? Ste and I are friends. Just friends. But if we weren't? It would still be none of your business."
"Would it now? I have to disagree. While Steven works here-"
"He's your employee. You can't control him."
"You don't own him."
"Don't I?" Brendan stepped quickly forwards so they were practically nose to nose. Noah didn't even flinch. "You wanna bet your life?"
The next thing he knew someone had grabbed his arm and forcefully pulled him backwards. He looked down at his arm to see Steven's hand. Steven was glaring at him. Brendan blinked - he hadn't even seen him move from behind the bar.
"Leave it, Brendan, yeah? You don't own me, we are nothing. My life is none of your concern, you got that? I'll hang out with who I want when I want, male or female, and if you don't like it then…"
Brendan stared at him wide eyed. His top lip twisted into a snarl and he grabbed Steven's arm, spinning him round and pushing him towards the open office door.
"My office. Now!"
"No!" Steven twisted out of his grip. Brendan pushed him so hard he almost fell, stumbling forwards.
"Bren-" Cheryl began. Brendan held out a hand to stop her talking.
"Leave it, Chez."
"I said leave it!"
He slammed the office door behind him and paused, trying to gather his temper. He swung his head round towards Steven who was gazing at him sullenly and - yes - a hint of fear in his eyes.
"Where…the…hell…do you get off talking to me like that?" Brendan stalked towards him until he was looming over him, hands hovering on either side of his face. "In front of customers? In front of Foxy? In front of my sister?"
"You started it!"
"What are you, twelve?" He took a deep breath. "Do you want me to hurt you, Steven? Do you like it when I hit you? Because you keep on pushing me and I swear…"
"Go on then." Steven raised his chin, meeting his eyes. "Hit me. Go on. What're you gonna do, claim there was a mugger hiding in the office?"
Brendan clenched his hand into a fist before releasing it. He was right, of course. Cheryl, Warren and that Noah kid had all seen them come in here. If Steven got hurt they'd know what he'd done.
"I'm leaving now." Steven sounded uncertain.
"You don't bring that boy here again, understand me? I say who you can and can't see outside this relationship, are we clear?"
"We don't have a relationship!" Steven bit his lip and looked away, frustrated. "A relationship is going out in public and letting people see you together. It's not denying that you feel anything for the other person. We have…we had…I don't even know what we had!"
"I've told you before, Steven." Brendan said dangerously. "I decide when things are dead."
"What're you gonna do, force me? I didn't think you were a rapist as well."
Brendan visibly flinched. "I'd never…I'm not…I've never forced you to do anything you haven't wanted to do." A flicker of horror passed over his face. "Have I?"
"I never would, Steven. You know that."
"What's this then?"
"You want me. You said so. Please don't make me angry, Steven. Chez won't be around you all the time."
Steven swallowed, taking in the threat. He looked back into Brendan's eyes, his own slightly damp. Brendan didn't think he could have broken his gaze even if he wanted to. He could gaze at Steven's eyes for hours. He could…
He didn't realise he'd moved forwards until Steven jerked his head back.
"No! I want to be with someone who isn't ashamed of being seen with me!"
"Steven, I…" he took a breath. "I…I j…I want you." he moved forwards again, into Steven's space, making it perfectly clear what was about to happen next. He was so used to being in total control of his young lover that Steven's fist colliding with his jaw took him by complete surprise. He stumbled back, one hand flying to his face.
"I said no!" Ste looked terrified, but he stood his ground.
"You hit me."
"I'm sorry, but…" Brendan looked at his fingers and saw they were red with blood. He was bleeding. Steven had hit him and he'd split his lip and he was bleeding.
Ste swallowed, then made a dash for the door, wrenching it open. Brendan felt white-hot fury course through him, and before he knew it he was storming out after him. He heard Cheryl give a startled "Jesus!" and wondered just how badly he was bleeding.
"Steven get your arse back in here, now!"
"I'm leaving. I quit!"
Brendan seized his arm, span him, and pushed him back against the wall with a thud, his arm across his throat.
"You think I'm gonna let you just walk out of here? Well? Do ya?"
"You can't stop me from…" Ste swallowed.
Brendan increased the pressure on Ste's throat. "I can do whatever I want. You have no idea what I can be capable of." he spat.
"Brendan." Warren said sharply, warning.
"Should I call the police?" Brendan heard Noah ask from behind him.
"No, don't be stupid, that's my brother."
"I really think-"
"Noah you put that phone away or I swear to God I will shove it down your throat." Cheryl came slowly around the bar and approached Brendan and Ste. Ste's eyes flicked to her, then back to Brendan's face.
"Bren?" She said gently. "Bren, come on, let him go, love."
"Go away, Cheryl. This doesn't concern you." Brendan's voice was eerily steady. No matter what happened now Cheryl would still think less of him. He could feel everything spiralling out of his control, and it was terrifying. And intoxicating. He honestly had no idea what he would do. Steven looked petrified, and the thought made Brendan's heart skip a beat. He had no idea whether Brendan was about to kiss him or kill him, and both options seemed just as likely.
"You're threatening my employee in my club; I think it does concern me."
"This is between me and Steven." He increased the pressure on Ste's throat again and the younger man let out a whimper, squeezing his eyes shut.
"I'm sorry I hit you." Steven said quietly, and Brendan felt his stomach lurch. What was he doing? He slowly dragged his arm off Steven's throat, his shaking fingers hovering over the younger man's face before stroking lightly and gently cupping around the side of his neck. Ste opened his eyes in surprise, his gaze meeting Brendan's. He rested his forehead against Ste's, keeping their eyes locked. He swallowed.
"I…Steven…" he glanced down at his mouth, and back to his eyes. "Steven…"
And then he was being dragged back, away from Steven, Warren had come up behind him without his noticing. Cheryl stepped forward, checking Ste was alright, as Brendan struggled against Warren's grip.
"Are you ok, Ste, love?"
"I'm fine, Cheryl, I'm fine." Ste rubbed his throat, taking several deep breaths.
"Let go of me, Warren!" Brendan hissed, struggling. Warren tightened his grip and Brendan made himself relax. "Ok! Ok! Let me go. Let me go, ok."
"Cheryl?" Warren asked. She hesitated, then nodded. Warren released him and Brendan shot a death-glare over his shoulder at the man. He straightened his suit and looked back at Ste.
Noah had stepped forwards, his hand hovering just over Ste's arm.
"Come on, mate, we should go."
"Yeah. Yeah, alright."
Ste looked back. "Yeah?"
"Look, just…come back into the office. I need to say…you need to…"
"I don't think that's a very good idea, do you?" Noah said icily.
"Wasn't talking to you." Brendan shot back. "Steven, please. Just…" he jerked his head in the direction of the office door. Ste hesitated, then shook his head slowly.
"No. Anything you want to say to me you can say here, in front of everyone."
Brendan blinked. "No I can't."
"You can't want to say it all that desperately then, can you?" Ste smiled, a little sadly. "Forget it." He turned to follow Noah out of the club.
Ste turned back. "What now?"
"I…" Brendan licked his lips nervously, tasting the iron tang of his own blood. He knew instinctively that if Ste left the building that was it. They'd broken up 'forever' about half a dozen times now, but never had it felt so final. Could he do it? Could he make him stay? He wanted to. But what scared him was that he couldn't predict Ste's reaction. If he came out and said that he…cared about…him, then Ste would be the one in control. And Brendan couldn't say with absolute certainty that he wouldn't just laugh in his face and leave, and then where would he be? His reputation ruined and not even Ste to make up for it… "Walk away." he said quietly. Ste frowned in confusion.
Brendan lowered his voice. "Walk. Away."
Would he get it? Would he understand?
"It's always on your terms innit?"
"Is it? So walk away."
The last time they were properly together. Before Rae and the baby and Noah, back when for a split second it had seemed like maybe they could make this work. After everything, maybe the universe would let them have a little bit of happiness.
"Come on, Ste." Noah tugged his arm gently. "Let's just go."
"Hold on." Ste was frowning at him, still trying to work it out. Brendan saw the moment it clicked, the moment he realised what Brendan was trying to tell him. That what happened next was on his terms, not Brendan's. "Walk away?" He said softly.
"Please." Brendan swallowed. "Walk away."
"Ste!" Noah was looking impatient now. He obviously had no idea why Ste wasn't just walking out of there, away from all of this. Ste swallowed, eyes darting from Brendan, to Cheryl, to Noah, and back To Brendan again.
"Ok." he said softly, tearing his eyes away from Brendan and focusing solely on Noah. "Ok, let's get out of here."
Brendan felt all his breath leave him. He couldn't move, couldn't speak, couldn't breathe. He could only watch as Ste walked down the stairs and away from him. He glanced over his shoulder at Brendan before he went out of sight and paused, but then walked out the door.
He was gone.
He'd left him. He'd actually left him. And it hurt. He felt like he was a kid again watching his dad walk out the door in the middle of the night. It wasn't supposed to hurt like this.
"Bren?" Cheryl rested a hand on his arm, looking concerned. He didn't acknowledge her. "Bren, love, come and sit down."
He allowed her to guide him to a chair at the bar, at which point he grabbed the whiskey bottle and glass which were still sat within reach and downed a generous measure.
"Maybe you should go, love." He heard Cheryl say to Warren.
"Yeah. I think this is more family stuff. Sorry." She smiled apologetically. "I'll see you later. Oh, and can you lock up when you leave? I don't think we can really handle customers right now."
"Sure thing babe." Warren cast a curious look at Brendan before walking away. A few seconds later they heard the door open and then slam shut again.
"Do you want to tell me what all that was about?" She asked softly.
"Nope." Brendan swallowed another measure of whiskey before topping up the glass. "What I want is to get very, very drunk."
"I don't think that's a very good idea."
"I really don't care, Chez."
"Yeah, well I do!" She put her hand on his, preventing him from lifting the glass to his mouth, "You overreacted, Bren. Alcohol isn't going to help right now, is it?"
"Yeah, well, doesn't matter now. He's gone."
"And he'll come back."
"No. He won't." Brendan glanced at her. "You're the only one who hasn't…left me. I appreciate that, Chez, I really do."
She sighed, smiling. "What're you like, eh? You had a fight, it's not the end of the world. People have done worse, love. He'll come around."
"Of course! And I mean, he did hit you first, so it's not like he'd entirely blameless."
"Right. No, course not."
"I know how close you two are. You think a fist fight is going to destroy your friendship?"
"We don't have a friendship. We have nothing." his mouth twisted into a sneer.
Cheryl sighed. "Ok, clearly I'm missing something here, because I've seen the two of you together and I know how much you care about him. And he cares about you, Bren. I know that whole scene with Noah was you looking out for him, and he does too, you'll see."
"You don't understand, Chez." Brendan replied miserably.
"No, I think I do." she smiled. "You both just need a couple of days to cool off and it'll all go back to normal. Trust me. Blokes fight, God knows why but you do, and than you make up." She looked over Brendan's shoulder and smiled. "Or I could be wrong."
"What?" Brendan looked up at her in confusion. She nodded at something behind him.
"I changed my mind." Brendan whipped his head round so fast his neck cracked. He ignored the pain. Ste was stood nervously in the doorway.
"Huh?" He wasn't sure he could manage anything more coherent right now.
Ste smiled, but he still looked uncertain. "I'm not going anywhere, remember?"
"Right." Brendan stood up awkwardly, taking a half-aborted step towards Ste. "I don't really know what to say, right now."
"You could start by saying sorry?" Cheryl put in. Brendan looked at her, exasperated.
She smiled sheepishly. "I'll just…leave you boys to it." She walked over to the other end of the bar, not quite out of earshot. Brendan turned back to Ste and swallowed.
"I am. Sorry, I mean. For all of it."
"So will you come back? To…to work, I mean?"
"Yeah. I guess." He paused. "And we're mates, yeah?"
"Well…" he took a deep breath, not believing he was about to do this. "That's up to you."
"Do you want to be mates?"
"Like I said, Steven." He looked away and then back, nervous. "Mates or…boss and staff or…well. Up to you."
Ste's eyes widened. "Completely?"
"Right." he hesitated. "Will you break my ribs again if I do something really stupid right now?"
Out of the corner of his eye, Brendan saw Cheryl react to the word 'again', but he couldn't bring himself to care right now. One corner of his mouth twitched into a smile.
Ste started to walk towards him slowly. "Not planning to escape out any toilet windows?" His tone was teasing now, more relaxed.
Brendan huffed in amusement, smiling properly at that. "Not this time, no."
Ste stopped a few feet away from him. "Good."
Brendan stepped forwards to meet him, and…nothing. They both just stood there, a little awkwardly, neither one of them moving. Ste glanced at Cheryl, who had given up all pretence of giving them space and was watching them closely.
"Do you want to go into the office to talk?" He asked. Brendan blinked. It would be so easy, go into the office, away from Cheryl, carry on behind closed doors and just pretend to be mates. Just pretend. Like before. Like always. Hiding.
Ste frowned, confused. "But you-"
"I don't need to." Brendan said softly, placing a hand on his shoulder. Before he could explain any further Cheryl walked back over to them.
"Can I open my bar now? You boys kissed and made up?"
Ste nodded. "Yeah, I-"
"Not quite yet." Brendan told her and, before he had a chance to reconsider what he was about to do, he bent his head and kissed Ste. It was a chaste kiss, just a soft press of lips of lips, and after a few seconds Brendan pulled back slowly. Ste and Cheryl were both gazing at him, wide eyed, like he'd gone completely insane. He waited for a few seconds before clearing his throat uncomfortably.
"Anytime either of you wants to say anything, that'd be fantastic."
"I don't…you just…are you two…?" Cheryl looked between the two of them, looking completely lost.
"Steven?" Brendan was starting to get worried now. Ste hadn't exactly been receptive to his kiss. "Are we ok?"
"I love you." Ste said, seemingly on reflex.
Brendan grinned. "I know. I l…" he swallowed. "I…I care about you, too."
Ste smiled, letting Brendan know it was ok if he didn't say it just yet. Beside them, Cheryl squealed.
"Oh, Bren, I am so happy for you!" She threw her arms around his neck.
"Cheryl." Brendan hugged her back awkwardly, still grinning at Ste.
"Oh." She grinned at them both. "Go on. Go home. Don't tell me what you do there, just…go. I'll call Warren back; we can manage here without you two."
Brendan hesitated for several seconds, then took Ste's hand in his. Maybe his grip was a little tighter than was necessary but Ste didn't complain, just squeezed his hand back before letting go and walking out of the club, Brendan following close behind.
Everything was far from perfect. Mitzeee was going to be furious about this turn of events. Plus now Cheryl knew about the two of them, he was sure Ste was going to want to announce it to the entire village; Rae would probably have a fit and cause all sorts of drama, and Noah. Not to mention the fact that Warren would put two-and-two together and realise Ste was Brendan's 'little friend' and would probably start using Danny's death against him, use Ste as a pawn to make him obey him. He didn't know what he would do when that happened, everything would probably go completely to hell. But for now, none of that mattered.
For now, Brendan was happy.
And he was going to do everything he could to make sure that lasted as long as possible.