in your FACE space coyote! (candle_beck) wrote,
in your FACE space coyote!
candle_beck

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jaws clenched tight we talked all night

The Four Rooms Suite (unrelated stories written at the same time)

1. The Offensive of Charm and Fire, Holmes/Watson, PG-13, 4092 words
2. How You Were Diverted, John/Paul, PG-13, 5076 words
3. The Mother Road, Sam/Dean, R, 3608 words
4. The Comeback Kid, Zito/Lincecum, R, 7195 words



john/paul, pg-13, 5076 words. here is some visual evidence:



How You Were Diverted
By Candle Beck


New York City, February 1964

The screaming hadn't stopped.

George lit a cigarette and looked twenty stories down to the crowd below. It was animate, pulsing, a thousand pale ravenous faces and opened mouths turned up to him, two thousand waving hands. The sound was oceanic, tidal, an old record scratched and battered. Hand-painted signs bloomed like strange hard-edged flowers; some small number had George's name written on them, punctuated by urgent blood-red hearts.

"Come away from the window, Georgie boy," Brian said, distracted by the messy stack of telegrams that had just been delivered.

"Don't call him that," Paul said without looking up from his hand of cards. "Only his mum is allowed to call him that."

George came away from the window, came to stand over the little table where Paul and Ringo were playing cards. Paul glanced up, a sly lidded look that he'd learned from John, and pushed out his lower lip in a way that meant he wanted a drag off George's cigarette. George passed it over, settled against the wall at Paul's back with his arms crossed over his chest. He could still hear the girls screaming, shrieking like bombs were falling. They'd been in America for three hours.

John emerged from one of the penthouse's bedrooms, his tie gone and his black-framed spectacles heavy on his face. George watched Paul's shoulders draw up, his head turning unconsciously to follow John across the room. George tapped Paul on the shoulder, looked down into his wide guilty eyes, and took the end of his cigarette back.

John was pestering Brian, snaking telegrams to read out loud in his funny gnarled grandmother's voice. Brian batted his hands away, a thin scowl corrupting his boyish features. "Here, leave off," Brian said. "Join the card game, would you?"

"Ach, cards," John sneered. "I've played enough cards for this lifetime. Especially with light-fingered young Ringo over there stacking the deck."

"You what?" Ringo said, blinking in the mildest expression of indignation the world had ever seen. "I wouldn't-"

"He's talking rot, son," Paul said. He wasn't looking at John, dark head bent carefully over his cards. "Pay no mind."

George watched John's eyes light on Paul, gleeful menace flaring behind his specs. "You poncy fuck-" John began, but Brian cut him off.

"All right, all right, none of that now. I've got to get to the theatre to make sure everything is in order for Sunday. You lads stay here, and you stay in the room, all right?"

George nodded immediately. Down in the street, the girls were still screaming, wanting to tear them to pieces. It wasn't safe in this country. Brian graced him with a slight grateful smile.

John scoffed and draped himself over a chair, tugging his collar open. "We'll tour the world, you said. A grand adventure, you said. So far, all I've seen of America is a plane and a room, and a car and a room, and a room and a room."

"Just leave off, John, would you please," Brian said, half-pleading. "CBS has a car waiting for me."

"Ooh, a car. Fancy the man," John said, his lip curled. He was bored, irritated and tired. George could tell from how he slumped in the chair, pushed his fist against his mouth, rattled his fingers on his knee.

Brian snapped his briefcase shut and jammed his hat on his head, said shortly, "Keep him out of trouble, Paul," before leaving with a cordial tip of his hat brim for the policeman stationed outside their hotel room door.

Paul's back looked made out of steel, strict and inflexible. John was glaring at him, a plain dare scrawled across his features. Neither of them liked it when Brian put Paul in charge of John. Electricity crackled between the two, that standard blinding edge of friction that they carried with them everywhere.

Ringo won the hand, murmuring happily under his breath, "Well well well," as he pulled in the mess of American bills and British coins. George wandered around the room, checking on the cannibalistic crowd, stepping into the bathroom and pulling a black plastic comb out of his pocket. He clicked his thumbnail along the teeth, and remembered John five years ago, standing behind him at the mirror and combing grease through George's hair, forming an Elvis curl in front and a ducktail in back. George remembered feeling nervous and ridiculous and desperate for John's approval, squinting silently in pain from John's rough yanking fingers.

George came back into the room and got his guitar out of its case. He folded himself into a chair by the window, picking out idle twists of melody, a little Jerry Lee Lewis, a little Roy Orbison. His fingertips squeaked on the strings, and he closed his eyes, let his head rest softly against the neck.

It had been a long day already, waking up in London in another hotel room with Ringo in the bed next to his own, grainy winter light filtering in through the mostly-shut curtains. They had been bright and eager in the morning, John telling wildly obscene stories over tea and toast, Paul singing nonsense beats and phrases, drumming his hands on Ringo's shoulders. Brian was harried and grinning with all his teeth, hustling them into the cars and forgetting himself, sitting too close to John and getting shoved aside for his trouble. The screaming had begun at Heathrow, and then the stretch of the flight like a blessedly serene dream, endless games of cards and cigarette smoke hanging blue in the stale air, and then they had landed at the airport named for the murdered president and been thrown back into the shrieking fray. The crowds had attacked the car, pressed sticky hands to the windows as Paul smiled and waved from two inches away.

Thousands of miles behind them, and still all this time to kill until the show a day after tomorrow. Once they were onstage, they would be all right.

"Oi," Paul said softly, drawing George back into the room. He opened his eyes to find his friend sitting on the floor, back to the wall and John's guitar across his lap. Ringo was still at the table, bent over a stack of New York postcards that Brian had picked up for him in the hotel lobby. "Play 'That'll Be the Day.'"

George's fingers slid into the song without thought. Paul picked out the rhythm line on John's guitar, humming under his breath. There was almost always music of one kind or another coming out of Paul.

"Ho, wait a moment," John said, swooping in on their quiet duet like a vivid tropical bird exploding into a staid English park. A discordant scree broke the melody as Paul twitched, hand curling tight around the guitar.

"What was that bit you just played, George?" John asked, leaning his hands on the back of George's chair, bending over him. George let his fingers run through it again, feeling John's knuckles against his shoulder. "Why didn't you play it like that when we recorded it?"

George shrugged. "Just came up with it, I suppose."

"Will ye lookit him," John said, let his voice crimp and curdle. He scuffed a hand through George's hair, and George jerked away, his face flushing. "Think your way's better than Buddy Holly, eh?"

"No," George said, because that would be mad to think, utterly absurd.

"Shall we fiddle the set around for the show? Scrap 'All My Loving' and let you take the lead? What do you say?"

"Leave him alone," Paul said, his eyebrows hunched as he watched George's hands moving anxiously through some throwaway tune.

"Let him speak for himself, you filthy bastard."

John was in one of those moods. It had come upon him just off the plane, thousands of voices raised on high and hitting them like the collapsing thunder of an air strike, like the whole world was made of glass and showing cracks overhead. More than any of them, John was at the mercy of the vicious all-consuming love that had sprung up in the past year or so. It made him skittish, near-panicked, his wit reckless and as cruel as the lash.

George's hands trilled a tense refrain, and he said, "How many people do you suppose will be watching on Sunday?"

"All of them," John answered immediately. "Every sodding one of them."

"Do you think they'll still scream watching us on the telly?"

"Of course. Soon as they see Paulie's pretty face, they won't be able help it."

"Go on," Paul sneered.

John stood above George in the chair and Paul on the floor, looked over the top of his specs, down his long nose. His white shirt fairly glowed in the high pale New York City sunlight.

"What was it the whores used to call you in Hamburg--angel face? Engel, engel-something, wasn't it? Not a bad start to getting your knob polished, eh?"

A dull flush crept up Paul's cheeks. There was a wicked mocking edge in John's voice, his hip cocked at a certain aggressive angle. He wanted a fight; they all knew exactly what it looked like when John wanted a fight.

"Shut it," Paul said, bright-eyed and angry. "We've got two more hours stuck in this room and I don't intend to spend them listening to your bloody mouth."

John cried out, fell back with both hands pressed to his heart. "A wound, sir! And us the dearest of friends, however shall I bear it?"

"Oh, for the love of-" Paul cut himself off, pushed up off the floor with John's guitar strangled in his hand. He glared at John, who was still mugging, pulling agonised faces as if there were a bullet in his chest.

"Come on," Paul said, and grabbed John's arm, hauled him to the bedroom. John quieted at once, pushed his specs up his nose and allowed himself to be led. Paul shot a look over his shoulder at George, saying tersely, "I'll be right back."

George nodded, his fingers playing a suspenseful sting as the bedroom door snicked shut. He glanced over at Ringo, still contentedly engrossed in his postcards, and just looking at the man was calming. Ringo had a preternatural ability to remain undisturbed by nearly everything, and George envied him that. His guitar sang quiet and constant, not quite drowning out the phantom roar of the crowd so far below.

Of course he knew what was going on in the bedroom, if not the specifics then certainly the general idea. Paul would fix John's mood the only way he knew how, on his knees or against the wall or whatever it might be, his pretty face and dark hair, his long-fingered hands. It might take him fifteen or twenty minutes. They would come out of the bedroom separately, and John would be calm, heavy-eyed and bewitchingly sweet, and Paul would ignore him for the rest of the night.

It had been happening for years.

The first time, or anyway the first time that George had noticed, was back in Germany, back at the Kaiserkeller. They'd been playing for seven hours straight and they had another two to go before they could sleep. They were drenched with sweat under the lights, hair plastered to their foreheads, fingers slippery on the strings.

John had taken too many prellies that night and he was jittering, falling off the stage, banging his head against the wall to the drunken guttural shouts of encouragement from the crowd. He had lost his voice an hour ago but he was still trying to sing, his lips to the microphone, each word a ragged tattered flag flickering in the wind. George caught a look at John's eyes during a twenty-minute Elvis medley that they were cobbling together, and they were huge, depthlessly black.

At that point in the band's evolution, John had been Stuart's job, Stuart who was John's best friend, Stuart who couldn't really play the bass guitar John had talked him into buying, Stuart who had come along with them to Germany because John had said he was in the band and if John said it (as he had said it about Paul, as he had said it about George), then that was how it was going to be.

It had been Stuart's job to keep John in line because Stuart was the only one who could manage it on a reliable basis, the only one John slowed down and actually listened to, but he wasn't there that night. Recently, Stuart had fallen in love with a girl named Astrid. He had been going missing more and more often, and John made Paul play the bass in his stead.

So Stuart wasn't there, and John had taken too many pills, drunk too much, taken a beer bottle to the head and been attacked onstage twice due to heckling the crowd, and he was weaving, missing notes all over the place. He kept trying to sing.

Paul had shouted to George and Pete, "Keep it going," and dragged John offstage, into the little alcove where they kept their instrument cases and gear. George stepped to the front of the stage and ripped through a wild dizzying solo, buried a hundred feet deep in 'Jailhouse Rock' and discovering amazing things.

Behind him, Pete whaled on the drums, his crisp edges sanded off by exhaustion and somehow sounding only the better for it. George turned to shoot him a triumphant grin, and his eyes caught on John and Paul, tucked away in that secret alcove where no one could see them but their bandmates.

John was against the wall, and Paul was pressed up along his side, his back to George and his head ducked against John's neck. John was gasping towards the ceiling, one arm around Paul's back and clutching at his sweat-soaked shirt, and George could tell immediately, from the pose and the look on John's face and the swift hard jerks of Paul's shoulder, that Paul was tossing him off.

George snapped his eyes away, his mind shocked blank for a long stretch of seconds. His fingers skidded on the guitar strings and it sounded like a car screeching to a halt, a train that had nearly killed him.

It had been unsettling in the moment, and even worse the next day, in the clear light of day when George had time to consider it. John and Paul were the closest thing he had to tangible heroes on this planet, and there was something fundamentally wrong about them screwing around with each other like they screwed around with the strippers and whores who populated the Reeperbahn. They were supposed to mean more to each other than that. George didn't know how to look at either of them for awhile.

But that passed. Paul got him drunk and made him laugh until he threw up, and John had asked George to teach him how to play some Eddie Cochran song, and George loved them both again. When he got kicked out of Germany for only being seventeen years old, he was terrified out of his mind that they would find someone to replace him, but two weeks later Paul showed up tapping at his bedroom window, saying come on and bring your guitar, son. John was back in Liverpool and he'd written seven new songs, and Paul said they were the best yet. George decided there and then that he didn't care what the two of them got up to in dark corners and locked rooms, not so long as they let him keep playing in the band.

It was only when John got in that certain mood, only when nothing else could reach him. Stuart had been dead almost two years now, and so there was just Paul left to take care of their dear damaged leader. He bore it stoically as he bore so many other things for John, the weight of the bass on his back and the second place on their every songwriting credit and the brunt of the screaming girls, and George wondered sometimes what Paul was getting out of it, but that was a dumb question. Paul needed John; they all did.

They didn't talk about it. Paul exchanged looks with George, edgy and vaguely apologetic, and disappeared with John into the closets and the hidden back hallways of theatres and clubs all over Europe. The bigger the band got, the more mercurial John's moods became, and Paul had stopped bothering much with subtlety. It was always just the four of them in some hotel room, some too-small car, somewhere backstage waiting for their cue. Paul once shoved John up against a wall and bit his neck right in front of George, and George didn't feel violated so much as trusted--safe. Ringo, who wouldn't have minded if his bandmates were sodding goats as long as the goats appeared to be enjoying themselves too, had asked George if John and Paul had always been like that, and George said yes before he had time to think about it. It was just how they were. It was some trouble specific to lunatic poets and their better angels.

And so here they were again.

There were no sounds coming from inside the bedroom. George started playing an old song by Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, the band they had stolen Ringo from, and his drummer snorted in recognition, rapping the rhythm out with his pen on the table. George thought for awhile about the show a day after tomorrow, thought about Elvis Presley on Ed Sullivan and how he'd never seen anything like it.

America, George thought, and his spine thrilled to it.

Then there was a knock at the door.

Ringo stood up and went to answer it, and George said, "Wait," because Brian had said they should keep the chain on and make sure the cop was there before opening to anyone, but of course they hadn't listened because they weren't that kind of famous, just a regular little band caught in a fad.

Ringo said, "What?" but he was already pulling the door open, and then like a nightmare the screams erupted into the room, tortured cats filling George's mind as he jerked in surprise and almost dropped his guitar.

A girl rocketed into the room and latched onto Ringo, arms cinching around his neck, gasping for breath and screaming little tiny hiccup screams, and George scrambled to his feet to help, but then there was another one, dressed in the same dowdy blue maid's uniform but rocketing for him this time. George held up his guitar as a shield, eyes wide as he stumbled backwards.

"George George George," the girl said in an open-mouthed slur, and for a single hysterical second George thought she must know him--she looked like he'd broken her heart. Her face was contorted and red and slick with tears, and she was reaching for him, weeping.

It was awful. George's guitar thudded hollowly on the carpet. He tried to take her shoulders and hold her off, but she was frenzied, too quick, and her sharp hands were on him, twisting in his shirt. They struggled, graceless and mortifying.

"Please, don't," George kept saying, and it was insane, insane--how could these girls have become so crazed for skinny little George Harrison and his good-for-nothing friends?

"Get off him!"

And that was John, John the saviour of them all come sweeping into the room with his shirt half unbuttoned and his spectacles gone, a jack the ripper kind of grin on his face. He tore the girl away from George, her long nails drawing blood on his arm but she was gone, at least she was gone, clinging to John now but John didn't care. He called her a stupid cunt and physically threw her out of the room, and then shouted down the hallway for the fuckin' security they were fuckin' promised. Meanwhile, Paul and Ringo were trying to get the other girl to stop hyperventilating, all patting hands and shushing voices, and discreetly ushering her out as well.

George fastened his hand over the two short gashes in his arm, crimson lines bleeding through his shirt and he thought dazedly that he'd have to borrow one of Paul's for the show. His ears were ringing, the girl's shattering voice pleading, her hot breath on his face.

He felt like he might be sick. He collapsed into the chair, clutching his own arm.

"Are you all right? Hey, George, c'mon mate."

That was Paul, bending over him and fitting a hand to his shoulder. George blinked up at his old friend, taking in his hand-wrecked mess of hair and swollen mouth, his shadowy blurred eyes. Paul had always looked out for George as a matter of course, and George wished he would say something now to ease the panic that had burst into the room as completely as the girls in their stolen uniforms.

Paul gave him a half smile. "You're particularly irresistible today, I suppose."

George shook his head, looked down and swallowed hard. He saw his guitar lying sad and askew on the carpet, and the sight stuck a lump in his throat for some reason. He blinked furiously, feeling incredibly too young to be so very far away from where he'd begun.

The door slammed shut, and George looked to see John seething with energy, the colour in his eyes snapping darkly.

"Bigger than fuckin' Elvis, boys!" John shouted, and clapped both hands on Ringo's back. Ringo jostled, pale and trying to affix his typical affable smile but it hung crooked on his face.

"How in the hell did they get onto the floor?" Paul asked.

"No obstacle can stand in their way--it's Beatle blood or nothing."

John grinned like a shark. He looked crazier than the girls, but he was theirs.

"Truer than you know," George said, and showed his scratched arm. John immediately asked if he could still play, and George didn't dignify that with more than a scathing look.

Ringo spoke up for the first time since the invasion. "What did we ever do to deserve this?"

He was joking, if only because Ringo was usually joking, but for some reason it landed flat-footed between them, and even John didn't have a clever comeback. The four of them were quiet for a minute, considering the plush carpet under their feet and the smeary blood on George's arm.

"Go wash it," Paul said eventually, tugging at George's elbow until he stood. "Last thing we need is you catching some infection and your arm rotting off."

George nodded, moved on autopilot to the bathroom. There was no window and for the first time in hours, he heard no screams at all.

The water felt colder than it did in England, somehow. George's forearm went slowly numb, his shirt sleeve soaked and bloodied like a murderer's. The taps gleamed, the towels on the rack rich and thick, and George remembered when they had lived in a storeroom in the back of a nightclub in Hamburg with nothing to wash up with except cold water from the urinals. He thought about the thousands of rooms since then, the months and years and miles, and he looked at himself in the mirror for a long time, trying to see the man who warranted this kind of glory.

Paul came in with a packet of plasters that he'd had the hotel send up, and behind him trailed Ringo, smoking a cigarette fast enough to show that his nerves were still shaken. Leaning against the counter, Paul said, "Not very deep, is it?"

George shook his head, meeting Paul's eyes in the mirror. Ringo was sitting in the bathtub, his legs bent, blowing smoke rings towards the ceiling. John hovered just outside the door, rubbing at the back of his head and watching them carefully.

Taking charge of the operation, Paul patched up George's arm and pronounced his shirt a lost cause. Then he looked up, caught John's eye and said:

"Get in here, Lennon."

John did at once, a dissonant thread of obedience running through him. He closed the door behind him and leaned against it, and then all four of them were in there, the proof of it reflected back at them in the mirror.

"Gone to the trenches, have we?" John asked.

From the bathtub, Ringo said, "It was a dastardly assault. I nearly lost me ear."

Paul laughed. He was looking at John in the mirror, and John was looking back, side-eyed and suspicious because John never really believed any good thing could happen to him without ending in tragedy, but still: he was looking back.

George sighed, and pressed his freshly bandaged arm, feeling the ache of it like playing guitar for ten hours at a stretch, all those mad nights they used to consider routine. The strippers and speed and milky cracked stage lights, stale black coffee and sleeping behind a kino screen, sleeping in piles because there was never any heat, and now here they were in the Plaza Hotel, twenty stories over New York City. Here they were on top of the world.

"We survived it, is the important thing," George said, and Ringo seconded, "Hear, hear," making the shape of the cross with his cigarette to sanctify it, the faint tee shape smoke-formed and hanging in the air for long seconds.

Ringo shared out ciggies to the rest of them and John held a match for Paul to light his, their heads bent close together.

A moment of companionable silence took them, and then George said in all honesty, "So far, this is my favourite place in America," and watched in the mirror as the rest of the band nodded in silent agreement, and the room filled slowly with smoke.

THE END




Endnotes: One line is from 'A Hard Day's Night': "So far I've seen a train and a room, a car and a room, and a room and a room." -Paul's fictional grandfather (he's very clean)

George of course wrote that title. Between playing Rock Band and listening to the 'pod and the computer, I hear some version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," pretty much every day, and you know what it never does? Gets old. Trufax.

Also, look at the amazing canon I have for you in re: Beatles RPS. Whole retro bandslash movement is what I wanna get started here.

Tags: beatles fic, john/paul
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