A lot of swearing in this chapter, sorry. And just… sorry in general; this one ain't as fluffy as the last couple of one-shots I'm afraid.
As a kid, Brendan and his father had never been close. Mr Brady had always been harsh, stern, pressurising. Brutal, manipulative and violent when the occasion called for it. And yet he was sickly sweet and perfectly charming as well… also when the occasion called for it. He was a master of luring people into a false sense of security, manipulating them to be in his control, to eat out of his palm… and then he'd crush them. Eternally merciless.
Brendan would always remember him as being huge – towering over everybody. He would always remember him as being immaculately dressed, well-groomed, giving the air of constant perfection and poise. He always had the power. He was always in control. All he'd have to do was fix people with a stare and they would be at his mercy; fearful and giving of anything.
Mr Brady now was nothing like the one in Brendan's memory.
Mr Brady ceased to be that merciless, overpowering top-dog the day he lay his fingers on Stephen Hay.
Now he was nothing. He was nobody. To the public, he was a man who'd been missing for three weeks – an enigma, a mystery. People assumed he'd been caught up in some dodgy deal and legged it, and assumed it so quickly that barely anybody bothered looking for him.
Only Brendan Brady knew this to be untrue.
And now as he stood staring down at his father, he felt nothing but contempt and pity for the man. The man Brendan remembered as being so strong was now weak, and weak was an understatement. He gulped down the water Brendan gave him with rasped desperation, not even pausing to shoot Brendan his usual furious glare. He'd been left two days like this – thirsty and starving – all because Brendan had gotten too cosy and too wrapped up in domestic bliss with Stephen… he'd almost forgotten about this secret he was harbouring. He'd almost completely forgotten his plan, until that nightmare stirred him a sharp reminder.
"Only a couple more days, Da." He said emotionlessly, "Only a couple more days."
Ste climbed carefully out of bed. It had been 20 minutes since Brendan had run off, and Ste couldn't shake away the memory of Brendan's wide wild eyes… his trembling hands… his frustration and desperation as he climbed back into his clothes. Brendan had run from the place as though it were a matter of life and death… with no explanation whatsoever.
The bedroom felt ghostly still now… the calm after the apparent storm that had clearly erupted in Brendan's mind. He'd even left his phone behind; it lay abandoned and unused on the bedside table.
With limited help from his finger-muscles, Ste awkwardly fumbled inside his jean pocket for the blue pills, and necked two of them back, hoping that they would calm him slightly. He wanted to believe that he was reading too much into things… maybe Brendan was telling the truth; maybe he had gone to work… at 5:00am. But Ste's heart was hammering with nerves and nausea, and he just knew something was wrong. He knew it.
And that same old feeling of uneasy claustrophobia was creeping back into his gut; like he was trapped in this house… the house he hadn't left for weeks. And distant reservations he'd tried to suppress were coming back to him too. He'd been so wrapped up with his love for Brendan that he'd tried to forget about Brendan's dodgy dealings, his rocky past, unstable mindset, his tendency for violence and evident thirst for revenge. He'd tried to ignore the sudden disappearance of Brendan's father, because he so wanted to feel safe with Brendan that he hadn't dared to doubt him.
But these thoughts were beginning to haunt him… as if from nowhere. As if Mr Brady's ghost was in the room with him now, poisoning his mind, corrupting his safe haven inside Brendan's arms.
No… he couldn't think like that.
He was just being silly… over-dramatic.
He should go back to sleep. When he woke up, Brendan would be back and they could pretend this whole stupid thing had never happened.
But the part of Ste that wanted to ignore this was being overpowered by the part of him that wanted to sort it. He was already unconsciously dressing himself; struggling slowly into some trousers, and then pulling one of Brendan's abandoned jumpers over himself.
He didn't know where he was going to go. He didn't remember anywhere very well… it was all so vague, and this house had become so familiar and safe that the idea of leaving it made him feel sick to the core.
But even so, he soon found himself pulling open the front door. He was quiet, so as not to wake Cheryl and Lynsey, and bravely pulled it shut behind him. There. He had no keys… he wouldn't be able to get back in now. He'd have to find Brendan first. No choice but to step out alone. No choice but to follow this through.
He took a deep breath, and walked down the steps for the second time that week. He reached the bottom… and looked around at the dark, hazy surroundings. At this point last time, he'd chickened and he'd run back to Brendan. But he couldn't do that now.
Chez Chez. If Brendan was at 'work', then that's where he'd be… so all he needed to do was find Chez Chez. And it couldn't be too hard to find a nightclub, could it? Ste was sure he could vaguely remember the bright pink sign as well – distinctive and eye-catching… he should find it no problem.
He made a decision, turned right, and started walking.
By 5:34am Brendan was in his car, driving at the speed of light to get back home and back to bed and make it up to Stephen. He couldn't shake off Stephens' fearful expression; the one Brendan hadn't ever wanted to provoke in him ever again. He'd get home… make up some lie that would somehow explain his erratic behaviour… and everything would be alright. They'd go back to how they were… tight and passionate and secluded inside the haven together… things running smoothly and perfectly… Stephen being all his…
But Stephen wasn't there.
Brendan felt his whole stomach sink in horror and distress as he stared into their empty double bed… the covers tossed about, and clothes picked up off the floor.
"Stephen?" He called out uncertainly. And then when his words were met with silence, he shouted a little louder so that he could be heard from upstairs too, "STEPHEN?"
His stomach was in knots. His chest felt tight with panic… panic he didn't think he had in him. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. No… this wasn't part of the plan. The plan was for Stephen to be here, here with him, always. Safe and kept away from everyone and everything else. How could he leave? He didn't even know anywhere!
The stupid fucker. Was this a fucking game to him? Was he testing Brendan's nerve? His patience? His loyalty, trustworthiness, devotion? WHAT?
He seized his mobile and rang Stephen instantly.
He listened with fierce impatience as it rang… and rang… and rang…
"Hiyaaa!" Called the unashamedly loud and chirpy voice on the other end, "This is Ste! I'm not here at the minute, but gimme a message and I'll ring ya back!"
"FUCK!" Brendan screamed, and threw his phone hard against the other side of the bedroom, watching as it cracked and smashed into a million pieces over the floor.
"Br…Brendan?" Cheryl's tentative voice sounded from behind Brendan's shoulder as she cautiously tiptoed into the bedroom, "What's the matter love?"
"Where is he?"
"I… I don't… what are you…"
"Stephen! He's fucking GONE, Cheryl!"
Cheryl's mouth opened wide. "Well I don't know whe… Why? Have you had a row or something?"
"NO! He was here, I went out, and now he's fucked off!"
"Well maybe he's gone to Amy's or…"
"He doesn't know the way!"
"Well he's a big boy Brendan; maybe he decided to…"
"FUCK!" Brendan screamed again, slamming his fist hard against the door-frame.
"Brendan, calm down."
"No, SHUT UP Chez; I need to think."
"He probably just needed some space! He's been locked inside far too lo…"
"I said shut up!" Brendan was seething; his shoulders rising and falling in stress and fury and panic. And he regretted smashing his phone up now. What a fucking mess.
"You stay here and wait for him." He muttered, heading back towards the front door, "And call him, will ye? I'm gonna look for him."
"Brendan, are you sure that's a good ide…"
SLAM. Cheryl stared at the closed front door, her expression etched with worry. If Ste really had taken off because Brendan was being too full-on, he was hardly going to appreciate Brendan turning up shouting the odds, was he?
But there was nothing she could do about that now.
She typed Ste's number into her phone and held it up to her ear. It rung for a while before, "Hiyaaaa! This is Ste! I'm not here at the minute, but gimme a message and I'll ring ya back!"
"Ste…" she said shakily into the answer-phone, "I think it's probably best you come back here, love. As soon as you can."
Chez Chez. Ste looked up at the nightclub. He'd finally found it, after half an hour of walking around aimlessly and vaguely recognising certain landmarks, and FORCING his brain-cells to pull together and think. And now here he was. And boy, did he remember it well. The whole place oozed a comfortable familiarity… but also a tense atmosphere seemed to hover around it. So much had happened here. So much good and so much bad, it was hard to stomach exactly what his feelings were about the place – especially in his current state of mind.
Still, he persevered. The sooner he got inside, the better; he'd hated wandering around on his own. The logical side of him had told him to remain calm, but the rest of his body had trembled in irrational fear regardless, and his breath had hitched up and he'd pre-empted another panic attack… thank God for the blue pills he continued to swallow until he made it here.
He tried to push the big double doors open… but they were locked.
He knocked heavily on the door.
"Brendan!" He called through. "Brendan, you in there?"
Come on, please. I need you.
The longer the silence dragged on, the more uneasy he felt. He could imagine people watching him… eyes fixed on him from behind, about to pounce at any moment.
He knocked harder. More frantically.
"Bren! It's me! Let me in, it's freezin' out here!"
It's dark out here. It's scary out here. Take me home.
So either Brendan hadn't gone to work after all, or he was ignoring Ste's increasingly nervous-sounding pleas. Depressingly, both of those options seemed potentially feasible. Ste hit the door, hard, and sunk down to the floor, his back against the door and knees pulled up to his chest.
Shit. Why had he even bothered? Would he remember the way back? Everything was so vague. What had he been thinking, coming here? Brendan clearly had business of some sort to deal with, even if it wasn't the conventional kind, so what had possessed Ste to FOLLOW him? Under any circumstances, that was a pointless idea. And then he heard it…
Ste blinked, lifting his head, looking down over the balcony to see where the voice was coming from.
Brendan was running towards him. Literally RUNNING… his expression wild, his movement fast and determined.
Ste slowly stumbled back to his feet, but before he could properly balance, Brendan had seized him hard by the arm, his fist clenching with manic frustration around Ste's slim build.
"What the fuck are you doing?" Brendan screamed, "What, I go for half an hour and you FUCK OFF and fucking LEAVE? Is that how this is gonna be?"
"I didn't… I wasn't leaving, I just…" Ste struggled to think of words; so overwhelmed he was by the suddenness of Brendan's furious arrival.
"I fuck around doing everything for you and you shove it all back in my fucking face?"
"I was jus' lookin' for…"
"Next time you try and leave I'll break your fuckin' legs off Stephen, ye hear me?"
Ste felt his heart hammering hard in his chest, his head spinning with confusion. And the pain of Brendan's grip on him suddenly scorched through his body… no longer numb, but alert with an immediate fear. Why was Brendan saying these things? Why was he acting like this? Ste tried to break free from him, but Brendan's grip only tightened; Ste's resistance only making him angrier and more frantic.
Brendan was losing him. He knew it. He knew it was only a matter of time before Ste realised what a maniac he was and tried to take off, but he hadn't expected it to be this soon. Brendan wasn't ready for it to be this soon. He needed Stephen safe and at home with him, always with him, never with anyone else or anywhere else but where Brendan wanted him. Brendan had done everything for him. He'd gone to God awful lengths for him. He refused to let Stephen do this. No. Fuck that.
"Brendan GET OFF!" Ste screamed, and his voice came out loud and cracked with something verging on a fearful hysteria.
Not that Brendan noticed. Instead he only tightened his grip even more and started tugging Ste back down the stairs, with every intention of taking Ste home and locking him away, safe… home… alone… where nobody else could touch him. His head was filled with white noise, his eyes filled with red as he continued to heave Stephen along beside him; Ste's protests falling on death ears.
"You're HURTIN' ME!" Ste yelled, fury joining his fear. "Brendan for God… FUCK OFF! GET THE FUCK OFF ME!"
He pulled away. Perhaps it was the abruptness that jolted Brendan from his daze… or perhaps it was the shriek in his tone. Either way, he broke free, pulling his swelling arm from Brendan's clutches.
He stepped back in horror. He looked at Brendan, wide-eyed, afraid, disappointed… hardly daring to breathe.
Brendan blinked. Realisation overcoming him.
The whole world seemed to still around them; weighed down by the magnitude of their emotions.
"S…Stephen…" Brendan croaked; quiet, still… staring into the tearful face of his younger lover.
"No, don't talk to me."
Ste turned on his heel and headed off in the opposite direction, Brendan's words looping in his head; haunting him. I'll break your fucking legs off, I'll break your fucking legs off, I'll break your fucking legs off.
"Stephen! Wait! Please!"
"Shit…shit…shit…" Ste chanted under his breath, trance-like, his eyes clenching shut in an attempt to stop the tears from flowing. He tried to breathe; tried to regain control. He just needed to get away. He continued walking fast, not turning back.
"Get off!" Ste snapped, pulling his arm once again from Brendan's reach.
Sorry. It was a rare thing to ever hear Brendan say sorry. But Ste could barely take notice of this, let alone evaluate the sincerity of it.
"Stephen, fuck sake, PLEASE!"
"Get lost. Go away."
"Look, I overreacted alright? I fucked up! I just… I shouldn't have said that, I didn't mean it, I was just fucking worried…"
"WHY?" Ste spun around. He stared into the pleading blue eyes of his lover. Or ex-lover as it now seemed to him. His ex-abuser.
"I…" Brendan stammered, trying to keep a steady head, "I worry about you! Is that so fucking bad?"
"What, so much you'll BREAK MY LEGS?"
"Oh c'mon! I didn't mean that, of course not!"
"But I don't know that." Ste stressed miserably. "I don't know that, Brendan."
There was a silence. They were both still, both staring, both drowning in the meaning behind that statement.
Brendan swallowed. "Ye think after everything that I'd hurt you again? I'm not gonna hurt ye, Stephen, I just wanna protect ye… I'm doin' everything I can to protect ye. That's all I want."
"You're actin' weird… Brendan." Ste whispered, "You're scarin' me."
"No, no, I'm just lookin' out for ye, that's all."
Brendan moved forward, his hands attaching themselves to either side of Ste's face, seeking eye-contact, DESPERATE to make him understand.
But to Ste, all he could see were manic eyes and a crazed, almost demented expression.
"I don't think you're well." He croaked shakily.
"Course I am, what do ye take me for?" Brendan laughed, trying to make light of a situation that was anything but. Even his laugh sounded deranged. Ste took an uneasy step backwards.
"Brendan… I think…"
"Let me make this up to ye, Stephen. Let me explain. Come home and let me explain."
"I don't think I can…"
"Yeah, c'mon this is stupid."
"No, Brendan please, I'm jus' gonna go to Amy's okay? Just tonight. We can talk tomorrow…"
Ste turned and started to walk away again, half of him aching to stay with Brendan but the other half desperate to get away. It was this tear between head and heart that caused him to stop as soon as Brendan demanded it.
"Please Stephen." He croaked shakily. "I've got something to show you first. You need to see something… before I let you go."