Characters/Pairing: Posner, Dakin, Irwin [and various combinations thereof]
Notes: Written for the prompt 'Posner/Dakin/Irwin - imagination running wild' for smallfandomfest. Many thanks to rainfire_dancer for her beta-ing, encouragement, and just plain rockin' the casbah. Subheadings all taken from various Zombies songs.
i. just out of reach
Posner knows that he was born in the wrong decade. The elegance of the '40s seems wasted on the others, and even Hector's personal nostalgia can't compete with the sheer longing he feels whenever he's watching a film, wishing his own life was recorded in black and white (or at least a pale sepia). It's romanticism, handsome stars and starlets as lovers torn apart; wanting only what he can't have, ever the sad story for the class homosexual, and hand in hand with that is always - was always - the need for someone real to focus his attentions on. It was inevitable. The only possible variant in the equation, really, was the target of said affection.
Everyone assumes he holds blind loyalty like some metaphorical torch for Dakin, which isn't entirely true, as he often muses on how much easier things would be if he'd fallen for one of the others. Scripps, ever the good friend, would sit him down, talk things out, rationalise his feelings away. Lockwood would jab him in the ribs with a friendly elbow, laughing at him until any lingering doubts melted back to nothing more than fraternal admiration. Even Crowther - enviably insouciant (as Mr Hector puts it) more often than not, and who can recite Marlowe like nobody's business - would have found a way to let him down gently. But maybe that's exactly why it was never any of them in the first place. Much like the boy he fancies, David Posner's always been in pursuit of a challenge, himself.
Perhaps the worst part is that he doesn't see Dakin as some untouchable, holy being. Every imperfection, every slight through words, Posner understands. He just doesn't care.
Whenever he allows himself the luxury to think about them - the two of them - together, Dakin never becomes a soft-spoken poet who whispers Symonds in his ear; he's just as much the ruthless Lothario he's always been, only this time he lets Posner in on the jokes instead of directing them at him. He doesn't treat him like a nuisance, or a tolerated admirer, but an equal, like the way things were back before Posner discovered his painful infatuation and used to rib and tease him just as much as the others did. It's easy to think about what he could have done differently, and he does with unhealthy frequency - all this talk of manipulating history has him almost tempted to hand Irwin a ten-page essay on various ways he might have snared Dakin in sixth-form if he'd gone about it more intelligently. Tailored methods of execution, smarter plans, but his attempt was only a failed annexation of something he had no hope of capturing in the first place. Posner is a living testament to failed invasions.
Still, Dakin indulges him; not looking away when he catches him staring, only smirking and holding his gaze until it's Posner who has to look away, and he suddenly feels lightheaded, helpless, weak, the way he always does when Wilkes forces him to hang upside down from his knees on the chin-up bar, the blood spiralling straight to his head, and he can't decide whether his resolve outweighs the humiliation.
Dakin even regularly visits the secondhand bookshop where he works, although even Posner has enough sense to know it's more to do with the reasonable prices than Posner himself. And there he is, flipping idly through a leather-bound collection of Browning before replacing it on the shelf, and Posner almost thinks he could stand here like this for the rest of his life, breathing in the musty smell of old books and watching Dakin stroll leisurely through the shop as though he owns it and all the literature in the world. He passes through the shelves with an air of sophistication and confidence that he only wishes that he could possess himself before finally bringing his battered selections to the counter, throwing a fiver beside them: Schopenhauer, 'The World as Will and Representation,' and Nietzsche, 'On the Genealogy of Morality.'
"That's not for class, is it?"
"Yes, because I quite enjoy reading this sort of thing in my spare time, don't I?"
Posner frowns, but decides quickly to change the subject, no more eager to make Dakin angry than he is to be patronised again.
"So," he says, a forced casualness to his tone. "We're still going to the film tonight, aren't we?"
Dakin blinks, that look of exasperated confusion he so often wears around him already blooming on his face, and Posner adds, slowly, "Eine Liebe in Deutschland? Remember? Scripps read about it in the paper. He thinks it may help with any questions we get on the Weimar Republic's fall."
Dakin shakes his head, and Posner feels his heart start to sink a little.
"No," he says, distractedly. "I've got some reading to do. Tell Scripps maybe later, yeah?" He shuffles his purchases under one arm, slides his change into his pocket, and nods at Posner before heading out the door, bells jangling behind him.
It's a Friday.
ii. this will be our year
It's the frown lines between his brows that give away Irwin's age; his skin, despite the fact that it's littered in freckles, might even be called flawless were it not for those creases from stress and irritation that Dakin's finding he's usually the cause of.
It shouldn't make him grin as much as it does, but he needs something to fucking show for all this running around in class, fretting like some insecure schoolgirl over things he already knows but just not in the right way. The man's proving to be the most frustrating conquest of his life; far more difficult than Fiona, whose faux-haughty glares had melted faster than he could wink at her. With that blonde cornsilk spilling loose over her shoulders and the excellent way she fills out a jumper, she's certainly still a prize - just not quite what Dakin's interested in exclusively anymore. She is, in a sense, now history; a past acquisition that he can return to whenever he so chooses. Irwin is yet to be won. He still backs away, gingerly, carefully, every time Dakin thinks there might be some word of approval - some small 'yes' - on the edge of his tongue.
It's only after Wednesday's private tutorial - hailstones angrily rattling the classroom windows and drowning out Irwin's customary "see you tomorrow, then" completely - when Dakin thinks that his uninvoked prayers have finally been answered.
He stretches, slightly, before speaking in a voice that's both drowsy and sly, a bit like the prelude to a yawn. "Wish Dad wasn't working so late tonight. He's the only one with the car."
Irwin blinks at him - "You're walking home in that?" - and Dakin shrugs, stuffing his hands in his pockets, glancing away, gaze now in the direction of the window; an action that becomes almost coy in its execution.
"Or waiting for the bus, I suppose. Who knows how long it'll take. S'all right, though, sir; still plenty of time for schoolwork, isn't there?"
Irwin heaves a sigh and Dakin knows he's being offered a ride even before the reluctant words leave the man's mouth.
Much as expected, Irwin's car is small, old, and takes a good minute to finally rumble to life. It smells of ancient leather upholstery, faintly of cigarettes (Lying bastard, Dakin thinks, feeling both proud and furious, I'll bet there's half a dozen packs hidden here, somewhere), and something else he can't quite identify but will, belatedly, realise was spearmint.
It's hardly surprising when the voices of talk show hosts - sharp, cut-glass, depressingly formal - fill the small space between them, and Dakin wastes no time twisting the radio dial through a haze of static until he finds something tolerable '--haven't got a stitch to wear--' and now Morrissey's easy croon is attempting to filter through the dying speakers in their place. Irwin says nothing about his sudden, childish lack of control, only keeps his eyes firmly on the road, and Dakin's not sure if he likes that or not.
He expected a continuation of their tutorial - a proper debate, or more vague insults on his essays, how he still can't get a damn thing right, perhaps - but the silence is too fucking unsettling. He almost wonders if he's done something wrong, but that thought disappears in an instant, ridiculous as it is. Something shiny catches the corner of his eye, then - empty crisp packet on the seat divider - and he moves close to snatch it up, dangle it near Irwin's face, casually remark on how these things go straight to one's hips - when he realises the reason the man's not talking is because he's biting his lip nearly hard enough to bleed.
So, that's how it is.
Unprompted, Dakin draws his hand away, scowling, no longer in the mood to sing off-key (leave the scales to Posner, thanks) or begin a pointless argument (not like he'd receive a response, anyway) or tease, and he only points the driver - his teacher, as he's making so achingly apparent - down the right streets, right, right, left, until they're pulled in front of his house, no closer to anything than they were nine minutes ago. The windshield wipers beat a steady rhythm over the stalled engine, and for a moment, lulled back into confidence by the comforting sounds, he's tempted - he truly is - to reach for the man's lap, to grip his narrow forearms, to use his mouth and hands to wrench out of Irwin the praise that's so wrongly being withheld from him (in the classroom, in this fucking car). But his hand half-lingers on the door, and Irwin is watching him expectantly, fingers curved (tensely, he thinks, maybe) around the steering wheel, so instead he mutters his thanks and pulls his blazer over his hair and dashes out to his front door through stinging sheets of rain.
iii. maybe after he's gone
He stands by the sink slicing tomatoes, staring absently out of the window. It's long past sunset, the sky above the sparse yard a messy wash of sickly grey and raw pink; and he notices, not for the first time, a long, uneven crack running along the lower panes. He'll have it fixed, eventually, but for now - in keeping with the tradition of not starving himself - he rather thinks that actual food is higher a priority than a drafty kitchen.
Lintott had implied that he reminded her of Dirk Bogarde, and for some reason he finds it is this that unsettles him far more than any looks of warning he receives from Hector, the man's eyes always so frustratingly knowing. (He's seen The Accident enough times to already know why it's best to avoid acting on certain impulses, thanks.)
What was it that Akthar had said? 'Gourmet meals for one'? Irwin snorts and begins to cook himself a bit of hamburger.
The boys are clever. Frustratingly so, sometimes, Dakin and Posner in particular; to the coursework, to the world in general, to him--
--albeit for entirely different reasons.
They're the only ones who'd asked for private tutorials, at any rate, but simply given the way Timms and Lockwood snigger behind his back, the blank looks he receives from Rudge during discussion, he doubts he could handle (or want) more. They settle into a relaxed routine for him, slipping like a second skin over his normal schedule; Dakin is Wednesdays, and Posner, always trailing behind him, is Thursdays. An hour each, right after classes end - clockwork - and they're suddenly similar in one aspect, if only through him. While Dakin seems to have given up on Hector altogether, however, Posner's loyal as ever, intent to continue wasting his time drowning in poetry.
Irwin remembers when he'd made the mistake of pressing him further about the man; he'd done all right earlier, he thought, with his question on Hector's lessons blunt enough to seemingly frighten the boy into not running to Hector himself about it, but there was something else, unanswered, that still nagged at him.
That afternoon, he had been shuffling for old exam questions through the masses of paper in his usually impeccable stack of folders; getting knocked over in the hall by footballers in a hurry to get to practise had slightly interfered with that tidiness. "Do you need to leave early today?" he'd asked Posner. "I thought you mentioned last week that you'd be doing some extra revision."
"Scripps and I aren't meeting for revision until later. Mr Hector's given him a lift."
"Why does Hector never take you?" he'd asked, and Posner had turned his head, posture stiffening. "I'm not asking for a betrayal," he'd said, more irritably than he intended to. "I'm just curious."
He'd closed his briefcase with a loud snap, finding some small satisfaction when the boy jumped at the noise.
Posner had looked at him then, appealingly, hands twisted into a loose knot on his lap even as he moved to stand, and it was so pitiable and humbling that contempt for this coltish insecurity nearly coiled beneath Irwin's skin; it was frustrating, the boy's brightness undermined by lack of true confidence (something uncomfortably reminiscent of his own school days, not that he'd ever admit it), and he'd wanted to seize him by the shoulders and shake every last bit of acquiescence out of him until he was furious enough to argue back properly.
But then, almost as if he sensed his sudden anger, Posner had closed his mouth again, cheeks flaming dull crimson, hand raking awkwardly at the back of his hair, at his neck, and Irwin suddenly knew the answer to the question.
Even now, weeks later - dimly realising that dinner will burn if he doesn't taper the flame - he still wonders what would have happened if he'd given in for once, acted as rashly as he spoke. He imagines inhaling faint sandalwood and shy hesitancy, and it's suddenly easy for a throttle born of irritation to turn into something else completely.
Posner wouldn't know what to do, of course; he'd have a million questions, sir, what do I do now, sir, does this feel all right, relying as always on Irwin's not-quite-ancient wisdom and expertise, yet maybe learning for the first time that certain things are best unasked. The scenario crawls and settles traitorously into a part of his mind that makes him want to discreetly relish it as much as it pains him to know that Hector was right, he was actually fucking right (he pretends he's never wondered if another certain student of his would know quite what to do in a similar situation), and he decides it would be best if he didn't think on it any longer.
Things are no different the next day.
There's celebration all around - for the boys, for their (not quite) fearless instructors - and of course they're successful, because failure never was an option for any of them. And, of course, a certain two are just a bit more successful than the others (he refrains from privately thinking of them, with a sense of undeserved pride, as the most clever, even though they quite clearly are). Posner, a scholarship; Dakin, an exhibition; both soon out of his life as far as you please.
He still doesn't know whether he's feeling loss or drawing comfort from that thought.
iv. how we were before
London at night, he feels, is like a living, breathing organism, always pulsing with life and the shadow of death. Skies wear dark smoke like bruises; the tube becomes a rather battered euphemism for the central nervous system.
A city full of - if nothing else - possibility.
Posner breathes deep, pauses: listens.
Seedy pubs are best for awkward reunions, even more so for accidental ones. Or at least that's what every odd pulp crime novel would have one believe. They scrape elbows - quite literally - when vying for the same corner table, and embarrassed winces match hasty apologies until they recognise one another and the defences slide back into place. Irwin adjusts his glasses with a rather vicious poke at the bridge of his nose; Posner's hand moves at lightning speed to smooth an imaginary cowlick at the back of his hair. It's as effective as anything else to take them both back nine years.
Irwin smiles, a bitter twist of the mouth, and buys him a drink because even now, Irwin lives to defy expectations. And they drink, without words, to him, of course; to his book, to his programme, and, mildly generous, to them both escaping Cutler's and Dakin before it was too late (even though it seems far past 'too late' for Posner, if his darkened cottage and well-worn scrapbooks are anything worth attesting to). The alcohol burns easy down his throat, the comfort of an old friend, and after his fourth sip he shoots Irwin his first smile of the evening that's not laced with irony. Irwin returns it before raising his glass and tipping it forward in half-salute; perhaps he's toasting Posner, now.
His hand, Posner sees, is shaking an alarming amount.
Hesitantly, he moves to cover it with his own, not quite knowing what he hopes to accomplish, but is startled when surprisingly strong fingers twine around his. Posner slides his fingers down, then, squeezing his wrist, thin and nearly colourless, and almost thinks he can feel Irwin's pulse jump in response before they both start at the loud, sudden voice behind them.
"Well, isn't this cozy?"
Even nearing thirty, Dakin still manages to look like a smug schoolboy.
Surprisingly enough, it had been Irwin's idea.
"This could be rather interesting blackmail, indeed," says Dakin, thoughtfully. "Imagine reading this in the headlines: 'Government official caught seducing two former students from days teaching at grammar school'--"
"Last time I checked," Irwin says dryly, "you both were definitely of age."
"You wouldn't know it to look at Posner," Dakin mutters, not without envy, but Posner isn't flattered; only mildly annoyed.
"For fuck's sake," he grinds out from his perch on a particularly unattractive sofa. His face twists into an unbecoming grimace. "It's always been about my looks, hasn't it? Even after all this time. I'm sick of it. Too young, too feminine, too--"
"--much talking," Dakin decides, and nods at his former schoolmate. "C'mon, Pos; help me get dear Mr Irwin out of his metal throne of undeserved superiority and into that lump of hideously ugly duvet down the hall that I'll bet he calls his bed."
Irwin is far from impressed.
"Taking care of me, are you? How kind."
"O-ho, would you listen to this man! Sorry, we'll just stand aside and wait a few hours before you get yourself settled in, shall we? Have any magazines we can take a look at?"
When Posner was seventeen, he may have dreamed about this: the thrilling idea of unabashed sensuality, of someone favouring him with a glance filled with more than pity, but it's nothing like he used to imagine. Dakin's hands at the pub were rough on his hips, clothed in shabby corduroy, and although he's still shooting both him and Irwin looks full of undisguised carnality; it's not worth it, not worth anything anymore.
This is something that can't be fixed.
Imagined yearnings of casual intimacy stayed with him only so many years before they succumbed to the morose outlook that came inevitably with his isolation. In the relucent, unforgiving lamp light in Irwin's sitting room, they're replaced with harsh insults that cut with their truth, and there's only so much of the name-calling and sour grudges he can stand to listen to without wincing, and this isn't what he wanted, not some rehash of those painful school days that he can only revisit through an old scrapbook, not what he wanted at all--
"He doesn't want your pity," he interrupts, and Dakin stops cold, dark eyes wide and mouth half-open. It's as if the air's suddenly been knocked out of him, though he's likely more struck because Posner - once-smitten once-lovesick now-bitter Posner - is the one who's dared lay into him than from the actual words themselves. A sudden, terrible silence has filled the room, and Posner is almost tempted to replace it with a half-formed apology - in truth, he has far more stored up inside of him, a better defence to continue on with, but the brief flash of gratitude on Irwin's face tells him that he's done enough. Ironic that it's taken this much for them to finally come to an understanding.
And far too late, Posner suddenly realises. Daring to think that things might be different - maybe that was the real fantasy.
He rises slowly from his seat and heads for the door.