It was, perhaps, a good thing that the sound of the train pulling out of the subway was so loud. It conveniently drowned out the startlingly loud expletives coming from Lor DeVille as she chased after it, leaping down the last few steps of the escalator and rushing down the platform, banging once on a receding train door before watching as it twisted off into the darkness of the tunnel.
She cursed once more, frustrated, loudly, and gleamed some small satisfaction as the syllable reverberated around the underground platform. After listening to it echo off in the distance, as if chasing the train, she turned and started trudging back down the platform to where her husband stood waiting, a vaguely amused look on his face.
"Did you really think that was going to work?" he asked, shrugging off his coat and taking a seat on the bench nearest the escalator. "I mean, sure, the driver might have heard you, but – "
"Shut up," she suggested, slumping down next to him. "Like you've never run after a train."
"Well, sure, but never a subway train. I mean, that's just nuts."
She rolled her eyes and looked up and down the tunnel in some kind of misguided hope. At this point she just kind of wanted the night to be over. "When's the next train?"
Phil was watching the relevant information refresh on an overhanging display. "Twenty minutes."
"Fantastic," she muttered. "Just great."
FROM HERE ON
1.2 22 Minutes Underground
by Acepilot & LordMalachite
Phil DeVille - Lor McQuarrie - Dil Pickles - Reggie Rocket
"Are you cold?" Phil asked, leaning back on the bench and closing his eyes. Besides themselves and a busker, just faintly audible on the platform behind them, the platform was completely deserted. Which was to be expected – they'd only just missed the train, after all.
"No," Lor lied through her teeth, trying not to let her teeth chatter too much. "I told you we should have brought the car."
"How was I to know we'd leave before we got really sloshed?" he asked, eyes still closed, head tilted toward the ceiling.
"Because you never relax at these things to have more than two drinks anyway," she pointed out, trying subtly to rub her arms. She would not admit to being cold. It was a principle thing. She wasn't going to give him the satisfaction of being right.
"Well, it's hard to relax around all those…people."
She snorted in amusement. "Oh, I'm so going to pull that one out next time I prop you up after one of those art shows. You get plenty relaxed around crowds at those."
"Not the crowds," he protested, "just...that crowd."
"What? Journalists? Sportspeople?"
"Both," he told her. "I always feel like I'm being judged."
"Phil, no-one at the party was judging you. I doubt anyone even noticed you."
He rolled his head to face her, opening his eyes. "Thanks. That's just what I wanted to hear."
She groaned. "You know what I meant. What, are you just determined to make life difficult tonight?"
"No, you're making life plenty difficult without my help."
"Well, I'm not talking to you if you're going to behave like this," Lor huffed, turning away from him and staring down the tunnel.
"Fine," Phil acquiesced, "about status quo for the evening, anyway."
She turned back. "What's that meant to mean?"
Her husband smirked at her. "Well, it's hardly like you were in any rush to speak to me all night, anyway. You were much too busy."
"Well excuse me for having an ambition in my career. This night was really important. Yeah, so I spoke to a few sportspeople – "
"You flirted with a few sportsmen."
She pitted him with a glare she hoped made clear as to exactly what she thought of him. "I can't believe you."
"Oh, come on," he groaned, a knowing look on his face. "That one guy – Jason something-or-other – "
"Jason Carey," she offered the last name. "And I wasn't flirting, I was catching up. He's from Bahia Bay, as you'd know if you listened while I was trying to introduce you."
"He was pretending I didn't exist. It was like your dad's dream come true."
"Don't start in on my dad," she demanded, standing up and all but growling at him. "I'm hungry. I'm going to find a vending machine."
"Uh-huh," was all the indication he gave to having heard her as she trudged away.
She hated nights like this. For a lot of reasons. One, they forced her to wear a skirt, and generally impractical shoes – the comfortable, preferred clothes of her youth had been forced to give way to occasional 'girly' moments for the sake of her career. Secondly, they tended to agitate her husband, which was generally more of an irritant than the skirts and uncomfortable shoes put together.
As much as trudging away was satisfying, she quickly came to the realisation that there really wasn't terribly far for her to go, this being a subway station and all. She rounded the pillars onto the city bound platform, leaning against the wall to take off the torture-devices strapped to her feet. On this side of the dividing wall she found the busker, who was sitting on the empty platform, playing on regardless of the lack of possible donations. Lor would have given him some change just for his blind optimism, but his choice of cover was a truly atrocious rendition of Billie Jean which was doing little to lift her mood. Besides, she realised, she had no change – no pockets in this stupid 'presentable' outfit and her bag –
She didn't have her bag.
On this side of the platform there was a vending machine, containing a desperately tempting array of chocolates, of chips, of bottles of water. She hadn't eaten much at the party and was extremely hungry and thirsty, and here was her salvation, only she'd mislaid her bag and therefore any money she might have.
She turned to look back at where she'd taken off her shoes, but she hadn't left anything there, which mean she'd either left it at the party, or she'd left it on the seat on the other side of the platform.
Either way, she had to go back and see Phil.
She groaned, the sound echoing impossibly loudly in the empty tunnels, turning to face the segmented wall, beyond which sat her moping husband.
"I am a strong, confident woman," she muttered to herself, "and if he's a dick I'll kick his ass."
She crossed back between the pillars to find Phil sitting in exactly the same spot as before, only now with a strategically folded newspaper in one hand and a pencil in the other. Her bag sat next to him.
"Where did you get a newspaper?" she asked, approaching him slowly.
"It was tucked in behind the seat," he told her, "but it's today's so I'm pretty sure it's safe. Five letter word for 'harmonic set'."
"Chord," she provided. "Do you have any change?"
He shook his head. "It doesn't fit."
"What, are your pockets unusually small or something?"
"No, chord. It doesn't fit. This word ends in 'e'."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah. Four down is definitely 'hydrogen'. No, I don't have any change."
She groaned. "Maybe I have some."
"Nah, you've just got some notes," he informed her.
"Oh, damn," she muttered," slumping back into the seat, before pausing. "Wait a moment. How did you know that I don't have any change?"
"I was looking in your bag for a pencil," he told her. "I seem to have lost mine somewhere."
She looked at him, aghast. "What? How…why…Phil!"
"You don't just go through somebody's bag! Especially not a girl's!"
He offered an expression suggesting she'd lost her mind. "It's not like I helped myself to some strange woman's make-up, Lor. You're my wife, I checked in your bag for a pencil."
She groaned and hung her head in her hands. "That doesn't matter – you still don't just rifle through a woman's personal belongings."
"We share an underwear drawer," he stressed to her, trying to comprehend the crime he seemed to have committed. "On occasion, we've actually shared underwear. And you're telling me that I can't look in your handbag for a pencil?"
"No, you can't," she informed him, snatching up her bag and storming off again.
He watched her go, shaking his head. "I'm getting that I've done something wrong here. But I still can't quite work out what," he muttered to himself, turning back to his paper. "Fugue, maybe."
Lor left him behind, crossing back onto the other side of the platform and fishing a five out of her bag and moving over to the busker, who had coins scattered around his guitar case. He was now slaughtering Black or White with predictable results. She crouched in front of him and snapped her fingers to get his attention. He paused, looking up at her through a fringe that looked ready to take over a small country.
"This is a five," she told him, waving it under his nose. "I need change for the machine. I will leave you the five and take four. I will leave the five and take three if you play anything not written by or for Michael Jackson."
He shrugged. "Alright."
Lor made her transaction as the guitarist began picking out something that might have been a cover of Neil Young's On the Way Home. She headed back to the vending machine and picked out a bottle of water – mostly to wipe out the taste of the god-awful wine she'd drunk at the party – and a bag of chips. She'd probably get salt all over her nice clothes but she really struggled to care.
She returned to the seat with Phil, who was still struggling with the crossword. "Thanks for getting him to change," he told her, "but I think I liked it better when he was doing terrible covers of songs I hate, rather than murdering a song I really love."
She glared at him. "Look, I'm sorry if you think I was flirting with Jason. I just hadn't seen him in years and I was trying to get an interview with him for the paper. Since he signed with the Raiders he's hot property, and an exclusive could really help my career."
"Wouldn't Simon see that as muscling in on his territory a bit? Him being the 'football' writer, and all?"
"Damn right I'm muscling in on his territory," she confirmed. "That chair should be mine. I'm twice the journalist he is."
"Hence why they assigned you to the better sport," he suggested.
She hit him over the back of the head. "Don't start with that."
"Alright, alright," he said. "No making fun of football tonight."
"Good," she said, tearing open the chips and having a few. She turned to offer them to him when –
"Of course, you know, I admire football players. They're fully grown men who aren't too afraid to admit to being so scared that they can't play rugby without a foot-thick of padding. And shorter distances to run."
She rolled her eyes. "He still could have kicked your ass."
"You'll notice that I don't play any form of rugby, so I'm not making any claims about my own manliness."
"Good thing, too," she told him. "I was going to offer you some chips, but maybe you want to work on your tone."
"Hmm," he offered, trying to resist rising to the bait. "Ten-letter word for 'disruption'."
Arguing voices came from the top of the escalator, increasingly loud as they grew closer and closer. A male and a female, short on patience and both a bit inebriated.
"It's your fault," the woman accused. "Who doesn't carry their license in this day and age?"
"I don't drive," the man pointed out. "I don't even have a car. Why would I carry my license?"
"But you carry your passport."
"I never know when I might want to leave the country," he argued.
"That, I'll buy."
"Anyway, it's your fault – you said you weren't going to drink tonight, which is why we brought your car instead of borrowing someone else's."
"I wasn't going to! It's not my fault Robert is such a…dick. He's just such a…well, dick."
"You know, someone asked me this evening what attracted me to you. I told them it was your eloquence."
Phil and Lor, far too experienced to be surprised, turned to watch as the escalator spilled a well-dressed but somewhat-dishevelled pairing of Reggie Rocket and Dil Pickles onto the platform.
"Friendship," Phil muttered to himself, filling in little squares with his appropriated pencil.
8 - * - * - 8
"Five letter word for apple?" Phil asked.
"Wanky?" Dil suggested. "Pretentious?"
"That won't fit," Phil pointed out.
"It will if you write really small."
"Fruit," Phil decided.
"Well, sure, if you want to be obvious about it," Dil told him.
"How the hell did you get roped into being Reggie's date to this stupid thing, anyway?" Phil asked, stretching out his legs a little. He realised he'd now been sitting very still for quite some time and was beginning to feel the effects of it.
"A distinct lack of other options. She was more just wanting someone who wouldn't spend the night gawking at her. And there's little risk of me doing that."
"True," Phil agreed. "So you two aren't..."
"Aren't what?" Dil asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Aren't...involved?" Phil ventured.
Dil made a face that suggested he'd bitten into a lemon. "Good lord no. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm glad we're actually starting to be friends instead of friends-of-friends. But I don't think there's any greater complication on the horizon than that."
Phil gave him an appraising look.
"What?" he asked.
"What did happen then, on the night of mine and Lor's wedding?"
"I don't know," Dil said. "It was your honeymoon."
"Hmm," was all Phil chose to say. "Eight letter word, Beatles album."
"I sincerely hope you're not expecting me to help you with this," Dil said.
"You should know it," Phil told him.
"I should wear underwear," Dil said, "but you don't see me following that rule either.'
"Thank you so much for sharing that."
"What are friends for?"
At the other end of the platform, the busker's newfound love of the Bee Gees was growing concenring as he attempted an ambitious cover of Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You. Lor leant against one of the pillars while Reggie agonised over what should have been a fairly simple choice.
"Plain or Salt and Vinegar?" she asked Lor.
"I went with plain myself, but it's really your call," she told the older woman. "I mean, he's just so...infuriating sometimes."
"He bitches half the night away about being at this stupid party and now that we've left he's sitting there with his crossword and sulking. Not to mention the going through my bag thing."
"You did mention it."
"I know," Lor snapped at her friend. "I just..."
"He doesn't like coming to these kinds of things," Reggie said. "So what? Do any of us, really?"
Lor wanted to say that she loved them, that they were one of the highlights of her job. But that was really a level of stretching the truth that she was simply not comfortable with. "I don't dislike them," Lor said. "I mean, I get that it's hardly the most thrilling way to spend an evening if you're not in our field of work, but..."
She sighed. "Don't worry," she told Reggie. "I'm going for a walk."
"Where?" Reggie asked, looking around at their surroundings.
Reggie shook her head as she watched her friend wander away, toward the escalators but staying on the far side of the platform - presumably so she didn't run into her husband. She collected her chips of choice from the vending machine and strolled back around the divider and toward the end of the platform where Phil and Dil were arguing over a crossword answer of some kind.
"You're spelling it wrong," Dil insisted. "It's ph-, not f -."
"You're phlipping out," Phil suggested.
"Children," Reggie chastised as she approached them.
"Yes, ma'am?" Phil shot to attention.
"Your wife seems to be a bit upset with you," Reggie told him.
Phil nodded. "I had noticed, actually."
"You rifled through her purse?"
"I borrowed a pencil," Phil moaned. "Why is she making such a big deal about this?"
"I don't think that's quite so much the problem," Reggie told him.
"I dunno," Dil said, "even I know that a woman's handbag is sacrosanct. Where did you get the chips?"
Reggie jerked a thumb over her shoulder. "Vending machine on the city-bound platform."
"Thank you," Dil said, rising from his perch and disappearing around the columns.
Phil turned to face Reggie. "You'll know this. Two four letter words, skating apparatus."
"Half-pipe," she supplied. "What's going on with the two of you?"
"She's a bit unimpressed with how I behaved at the party this evening," he told her.
"I wasn't paying attention," Reggie admitted. "Were you acting like a twat?"
Phil rolled his eyes. "No. Well, not really. I wasn't oohing-and-aahing at all the sportspeople but I didn't think I was being that big a dick."
"Maybe you need to talk to her about this," Reggie suggested.
"We tried that," Phil told her. "It didn't go well."
"Try again," Reggie suggested.
"Why did you bring Dil to this thing?" Phil asked.
Reggie shrugged. "He's generally pretty bearable, all things considered. And he doesn't gawk at me or expect me to act like the subservient little woman."
"I would think not," Phil said, sighing and standing up. "So how did the two of you end up in a screaming match?"
"Eh," Reggie grunted, "I might have brought that on myself."
"I asked him to pretend to be my boyfriend," she told him.
Phil tracked back over that for a second. "Alright, you're going to have to explain that one."
"Well...there was this guy there who was getting a bit...personal. Some football player with the Raiders."
"Carey?" Phil asked.
"Yeah, that's him," Reggie nodded.
"What? Anyway," Reggie said, determined not to be thrown off track at this point, "last time we were at one of these kind of things, he was there and was quite interested in the fact that I was single. So I was kind of determined not to be stuck with him hitting on me again, hence Dil."
"And you didn't tell Dil this was meant to be anything other than 'as friends' until after the fact, huh?"
"Not exactly, no."
Phil laughed. "Oh, I bet Dil took that and ran with it."
"I think he was pretty unimpressed with having it suddenly lumped on him," Reggie admitted, "but he was quite creative under pressure. Did you, for instance, know that we met each other across a crowded room in New Zealand while I was there to cover a sheep racing festival?"
Phil raised an eyebrow. "A what?"
"It went downhill from there."
"A good direction for a sheep race," Phil suggested. "Which way, pray tell, did my wife go?"
"Up the escalator."
"Thank you," he said, pulling himself up off the bench and nodding to her. "I'll be right back."
"I'm sure," she said. "Train is in five minutes, remember?"
"I know, I know."
Phil mounted the escalator and rode it, in all its crawling glory, up the ridiculous heights to the ground floor. Looking back down was enough to make him mildly dizzy, and he attempted to distract himself with the crossword but found it to be a pretty ineffective attempt. He settled for staring at his shoes until he saw them make contact with solid earth.
The concourse level of the station was dead silent and all but abandoned, the ticket counter closed and the automatic ticket machine lit-up to attract people toward it.
"Lor?" he asked the empty room.
There was a sigh. "Yeah?"
He followed the voice and found her sitting by the station gates, looking pretty miserable. "Hi."
"Hi," she said.
"I'm sorry," he told her. "I didn't mean to ruin this evening."
"You didn't," she said. "I mean, you did, but...you didn't."
"Well, thanks for clearing that up for me," he said, dropping down next to her. "What's wrong?"
She sighed. "I don't like fighting with you," she told him.
"I'm not such a big fan of it myself."
"I didn't even enjoy the party myself," she admitted. "I don't know why I should expect you to. I just guess I wish...I wish that when we do get a night out we could both enjoy it."
"We don't seem to date as much as we used to, no," Phil nodded along with her sentiment.
"We used to go out and do things we liked," she reminded him. "Movies, dancing, that kind of stuff. Now, what? I'm always struggling with stories or whatever, you're trying to run two careers at the same time, and...well, I guess we just don't have as much time as we used to. When we do have nights out, we end up doing things like this. Art shows and sports functions that we're professionally obliged to and neither of us really enjoy."
Phil sighed. "I know. I guess I hadn't thought that getting married would end our dating life quite like it has." He reached over and took her hand, running his fingers up and down it. "From now on, we need more time to ourselves. Dates. Nights alone. Less work at home."
"You really think we can pull that off?" she asked.
"Yes," he said, standing up and pulling her to her feet with him. He led them back to the escalators, which they began descending. "Because even if we don't have enough time with each other and going to these little sporting soirees drives me nuts and all that, I really do love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you. And that means actually spending as much of that time as possible with you."
She took advantage of his being on a lower step and kissed him, for once without having to stand on her toes to do it. "I love you too," she said, slipping down onto the same step as him and holding him tight.
He smiled and returned the embrace.
"So, I see you two fixed things up," Reggie noted as they descended back onto the platform.
"More or less," Lor agreed. "How long until the train?"
"Any minute now," Dil said.
"And how about you two?" Phil asked. "Are you going to play nice now?"
Dil groaned. "Do we have to?"
Phil rolled his eyes. "Come on."
Reggie sighed and got up from the bench, walking over to where Dil leant against the wall, extending her hand to him. "I'm sorry I called you an idiot."
Dil looked at her hand as if afraid it would bite him, before taking it and shaking it with something resembling vigour. "And I'm sorry I said you were selfish in bed."
Reggie's jaw dropped. "You what?"
Dil stepped back slightly. "Ah. Must have said that when you were out of earshot."
As tempting as it was to watch her friends descend, yet again, into childish squabbling, Lor felt a tug on her arm and allowed Phil to pull her away, past the dividing wall and back onto the city-bound platform. "What are we doing?"
Phil pressed a kiss to her forehead and pushed his hands down on her shoulders. "Wait here."
"Okay," she said.
She watched as he crossed the platform to the busker, who was finally just sitting in silence, blowing slightly on his fingers as he counted his money. Her husband pulled a crumpled note from his pocket and handed it to the other man, who listened intently to whatever it was that Phil had to say before shrugging, nodding, and setting himself back up.
Phil walked back over to her with a smile on his face as the busker started playing a new song - a choppy sequence of chords in four-four. Phil held a hand out to her, which she accepted with a look of slight bafflement on her face as he pulled her in, flush against his body. "Who says I never take you dancing any more?"
She laughed and allowed him to lead them through a series of moves they hadn't done in far too long but that they would never really forget. Even the busker's singing - for once soft and somewhere in vaguely the right key - wasn't going to throw them, and she tucked her head in against Phil's neck and listened to his breathing until the train pulled into the station.
8 - * - * - 8
Episode 3: Piano, coming next week. Feeback is always appreciated.