Category: Nathan Barley
Pairing: Dan Ashcroft/Jones
Length: 1-5k words
Prompt: #548 at lgbtfest. Nathan Barley: Dan Ashcroft/Jones. As one of his infamous practical jokes, Nathan films the drunk Dan and Jones sleeping against one another. When the clip goes online, everyone suddenly thinks they are a couple. The more Dan protests, the more the idea sets in people’s minds. Soon Dan doesn’t know what to think himself.
Notes: The birthing of this story was really traumatic so I give big thanks to easilyled for betaing many different drafts, for her suggestions and allowing me to bounce off ideas – your support has been fabulous!
“So, you’re bumming Jones, yeah?” by glitter traces
The pound-pound-pound of Dan’s hangover pulsed through his head. It was a Monday morning after a day spent drinking Guinness and eating the awful Sunday Roasts (involving butternut squash) that they served at the Nailgun Arms. Dan didn’t have anything against butternut squash per se—he just didn’t think it went with beef, Yorkshire puddings and horseradish sauce. Why couldn’t they just have a simple Sunday Roast without the ‘trendy’ trimmings? What had ever happened to serving your normal average roast potato?
The pound-pound-pound was exacerbated by trying to write a piece about Regime. The deadline loomed that afternoon. He’d never even eaten there, because he couldn’t think of anything more idiotic than going to a restaurant in which a machine tells YOU what you should eat.
Small things today were conspiring to annoy him. The idiots were pissing him off by playing ‘Simon Says’, “It’s totally retro, yeah?” Rufus had said. The flashing and bleeping was getting on Dan’s nerves. He started to drum his fingers on his desk in annoyance. Ned looked up from the machine as Rufus played, noticing Dan’s tapping. He leant across Dan’s desk.
“So,” Ned asked, “you’re bumming Jones, yeah?”
Dan lost the rhythm of the tapping, stopped, and looked across at Ned. It must be a joke, he thought, but one look at Ned’s expression made Dan realise that Ned was being serious, which in itself was a surprise.
This was the last question that Dan had ever expected anyone to ask him. He tried to formulate a coherent response but failed. He tried again, this time managing to say, “What?”
For a moment Dan wondered if he had crawled into some weird parallel universe. The very idea that people might think he was—it made him feel as if he were falling head first into a chasm.
“It’s on Trashbat, you and him,” Ned explained.
Bumming Jones? What the hell did Ned mean? Dan frowned. What had Nathan put up on his fucking website now to give anyone that kind of idea anyway? He had to find out. As Ned and Rufus fought over the bleeping game, Dan tried to look like he was writing an article. His hands shook as he booted up Nathan’s site. The page was taking ages to load as usual… 40%… 53%… 67%… and he started to tap his fingers on his desk again.
“Dan, are you freeee?” Jonatton called out in his best Mr Humphries impression. Dan flinched and quickly closed the browser window. “My office, now!” Jonatton cooed.
Ned and Rufus started sniggering. Dan got up, inwardly cringing, feeling the hot stares of the other magazine staff burning into his back. He closed the door to Jonatton’s office behind him. Through the glass he could see Ned and Rufus looking at him, so he closed the blinds.
“Sit down, Dan,” Jonatton offered, leaning back in his chair with a smug look on his face. “So, you’re bumming Jones, yeah?”
“What?” Dan asked with a feeling of deja vu.
Even though he was a writer he still hadn’t fashioned a more coherent answer to that question. Perhaps if he was asked it enough he might formulate a better answer by the end of the day.
Jonatton’s gaze was like paint stripper, peeling away all of Dan’s protective layers. Dan looked at a point directly behind Jonatton’s head. In his eye-line was a poster of an androgynous Jones-like figure with smudged eyeliner and a wet t-shirt clinging to hard nipples. The guy had his mouth open, his tongue licking the corner of his lips. The homoeroticism was apparent. Dan quickly looked away.
“Oh Dan. Don’t be like that,” Jonatton tutted, “—it’s on Barley’s website,” and he turned his computer screen around so Dan could see.
With a couple of clicks of Jonatton’s mouse the video started up. Nathan’s face appeared on the screen in an extreme close-up, which was enough to make Dan feel queasy. The look on Nathan’s face was one of pure mischief; the sort of look Dan recognised from Nathan’s other ‘prank’ videos.
“Okay, I’m about to show you a whole new side of the Preacher Man, yeah?” Nathan whispered fiercely, grinning, “You’ll well like it, it’s wicked, follow me.”
Nathan leant forward, grabbing the camera and turning it around. There were shaky shots of an inside corridor—the posters on the wall made Dan realise Nathan was heading towards the VIP suite of that atrocious club that Jones sometimes DJ’d at. The camera zoomed in on two figures. It was Dan and Jones lying asleep on a lurid purple sofa. Jones’s head was pillowed on Dan’s chest and their limbs were tangled together.
“This is Nathan from Trashbat bringing you gay loving, laters!”
The film stopped, freezing on the image of Jones and Dan together. Nathan had transposed pink and red hearts over the top of the frame.
“Fuckwit,” Dan muttered under his breath.
Jonatton’s leather chair creaked as he leant right back, giving Dan a sardonic look. He picked a ball up from his desk and started playing one handed catch with it.
“Write about it. Normal rate. It can be your companion piece for the straight-on-straight sex article; gay-on-gay sex,” Jonatton said. “We’ll make it a double page spread.”
Dan realised he was gaping and quickly closed his mouth. He rubbed the bridge of his nose.
“But you’ve got this wrong—I’m not—we’re not—” Dan stammered.
Even to Dan his words sounded lame. Jonatton pulled a face at him.
“I want it by Thursday, Dan,” Jonatton said in a threatening way.
And Dan had to concede. Jonatton’s shitty magazine seemed to be the only place that would actually pay him for writing features. It was just another one of those annoying aspects of Dan’s existence. Well, perhaps not annoying, more maddening.
“Fine,” Dan snapped, as he left, slamming the door on a smug-looking Jonatton.
People pretended to be working as Dan stalked back over to his desk, but if he looked on the periphery of his vision he noticed they were whispering behind their hands. When Dan sat back down Sasha came over to him, carrying a tray of cups.
“I always wondered why you never asked me out,” she whispered, handing Dan a mug of black coffee. “Are you happy with him?”
“But, Sasha, you’ve got to believe me, we’re not—” Dan said, but he could tell from the expression on Sasha’s face that she did not believe him.
A sad smile played on her lips and she touched Dan lightly on the shoulder.
“You don’t have to do all of that posturing with me. I understand, Dan.”
And that was the thing with Sasha; she always did understand. Dan watched as she disappeared into Jonatton’s office with the tray of drinks, her short black dress riding up to reveal acres of toffee-brown skin. He had been working up to asking Sasha out, kind of. In fact he didn’t know why he hadn’t yet. But now…
Dan proceeded to bang his head on his desk until his coffee sloshed over the sides of the mug and began to puddle around his right elbow. The idiot’s bleeping suddenly stopped. There was some kind of mumbling about batteries, which Dan ignored. Now, devoid of their game, the idiots would soon turn their attention back to Dan. He laid his forehead on his desk feeling coffee seep into the sleeve of his shirt, waiting for one of them to say something to him.
“So, Dan, you’ve seen this new prank Nathan’s put on his site? Pingu shits himself.”
He looked up at Ned and Rufus. Sometimes he got mixed up over who was who, especially as they seemed to say exactly the same thing but in a slightly different way.
“Yeah, it’s well wicked,” Ned or Rufus said.
“Wicked shit, it is, yeah,” Rufus or Ned said.
He rested his forehead back on the desk for a moment, before starting to bang-bang-bang it against faux wood all over again.
When Dan’s bleary eyes had gazed in the mirror that morning he hadn’t looked or felt any different. But all it took was for one video to be posted on the internet to suddenly bring Dan’s world crashing down around his ears. The idiots had been getting on his nerves all day, so he’d come to the café to relax but then Claire asked that dreaded question—
“What’s this about you and Jones?”
And at her words Dan felt the final pieces of rubble fall to the ground.
“Not you as well,” Dan groaned, staring into his coffee cup.
“So, you are sleeping with him!” she gasped, almost knocking over her latte in excitement.
“No I’m not,” Dan said very firmly.
But Claire was looking at him in the way that only younger sisters can. And Claire was never one to let something go. She was assessing him. It reminded him of the last time he’d gone to the bank to get a loan; the manager had looked at him, sizing him up, trying to work out if he would be able to pay the money back. Finally Claire sat back in her seat. If Jonatton’s gaze had been like paint stripper then hers was like acid, burning into Dan’s very core.
“You’re sleeping with him,” she said, “You’ve got the same look you had when you finally convinced Debbie Morgan to sleep with you.”
The other thing with Claire was that she always remembered the embarrassing moments in Dan’s life. Perhaps it hadn’t been a good idea to take Debbie back to his parents’ that time and let her stay for breakfast. His mother hadn’t known where to look and a ten-year-old Claire had asked what the noise was during the night (although Dan knew she didn’t need an answer—after all she wasn’t stupid).
“I was seventeen!”
Claire drummed her fingers on the table, a habit she had picked up from Dan.
“I know. And you’ve got that look now.”
“The look of the cat that’s got the cream,” Claire smiled taking a swig from her coffee, “Besides it isn’t as if it’s the first time you fell for a bloke. Remember Andy? Following him around like a little lost puppy?”
Oh shit. Was she going to rake over every last humiliating moment in Dan’s life?
“That was just one of those teenage crush things.”
At least that was how the adult Dan had always reconciled that particular event in his life. Andy had been one of the lifeguards at the local swimming pool. For some reason when Dan looked at Andy, especially when Andy paraded around in his tiny swimming trunks, it had made his cheeks feel hot. And not just his cheeks either. It was a feeling that Dan had grown to like. So when Claire had decided she wanted to learn to swim he said he’d teach her. They went there every single day that summer. By the end of it Claire could swim four lengths. He hadn’t even realised she had noticed him noticing Andy…
“And then there was Morgan, that guy you met at Uni, you were always talking about him.”
“We were room-mates,” Dan grunted.
And they were. Well, room-mates who sometimes got so drunk they’d pass out on the same bed, dressed only in their boxers, but he wasn’t going to tell Claire that. But just being room-mates seemed to be enough ammunition for Claire, who just exclaimed “Exactly!” in triumph.
“I’m not—but I’m not—” Dan started to say, because he wasn’t really was he? That involved cocks up bums and sucking penises and he’d never done that.
Claire raised her eyebrow and drained the last of her coffee.
What the hell was wrong with everybody? Had they all gone mad? He could understand the idiots not getting it, but Claire, his sister, thinking—
What about Jones? Shit.
He hadn’t thought of that. Dan ran his hand through his hair. He couldn’t go back to the House of Jones tonight. Not if everyone thought that he and Jones were well—
“I’m gonna fucking kill Nathan,” Dan growled, stalking from the café, leaving Claire to complain about having to pick up the bill as usual.
Brandy was good, Dan had decided. He was sat in a corner of the Nailgun Arms and had managed so far to avoid the sugaRAPE guys. They’d taken residence in another corner of the bar; Ned and Rufus seemed to have invented some new drinking game which involved spinning around with a shot glass balanced on their heads. Dan was happy to be left alone.
Why did everyone think he was with Jones? Did Dan look gay? He didn’t think he did. He frowned.
A wolf-whistle penetrated through Dan’s thoughts and he looked up to see the sugaRAPE guys whistling and howling as Jones stalked across the pub. Jones turned to them and stuck up his middle fingers, before continuing on his trajectory towards Dan.
Oh fuck. Fuck. Dan felt his stomach drop into the pub cellar.
Jones slipped into the chair opposite Dan, not saying a word. It was odd because Jones was always noisy, whether he was making his music, or talking too fast and too much because of the drugs he’d taken. They sat staring at each other for a few moments.
“Would you like a drink?” Dan asked Jones.
He nodded in reply.
Jones shrugged. Dan got up and walked to the bar. In the background the sugaRAPE guys started shouting lewd suggestions. He bought Jones a brandy and stuck his middle finger up at the guys as he walked back to the table where Jones sat.
Dan placed the glass in front of him and Jones sniffed the brandy, before downing the whole drink in one go. Jones’s neck was lily white and Dan found himself watching Jones’s Adam apple as it bobbed up and down. The glass was placed carefully back on the table and Jones gazed up at Dan.
“I knew I’d find you here,” Jones murmured softly, “I knew you’d not come back to the house.”
His words made Dan feel faintly ashamed. Dan avoided Jones’s gaze and took another sip of brandy. A whole bottle would be nice right now.
“I knew you’d freak out,” Jones sighed, tracing the lip of his glass with a fingertip.
“It’s Nathan’s bloody fault,” Dan mumbled, draining the last of the brandy from his glass.
“No, no it fucking isn’t,” Jones was almost shouting, “It’s YOUR fault Dan. Why don’t you just think about a few things? You call them idiots but sometimes—” Jones stood up and leant right across the table, almost face to face with Dan, “Sometimes,” he spat, “I think YOU’RE the biggest idiot of all.”
Jones turned on his heel, exiting the pub to much cat-calling by the sugaRAPE guys. All Dan could think about was punching Nathan. Nathan had made Jones shout at him, and Dan didn’t like Jones shouting at him. Fucking Nathan.
There was a murmur of noise from outside of the pub. It sounded like Jones and NATHAN. Dan looked up, squinting through the window. Nathan was saying something to Jones, and Jones stuck his middle fingers up at him. Then Nathan groped Jones’s arse. Jones slapped him and stormed off. Dan inwardly cheered. And then Nathan fell through the door of the pub with a large grin on his face. He noticed the sugaRAPE guys and instantly walked over to them.
“I think Jones likes me,” he camped in an extremely loud voice. “Now, that’s one guy I wouldn’t mind doing the moonwalk with.”
Ned and Rufus found this hilarious, and broke into laughter.
Dan could feel the anger welling up inside of him. He was liable to explode any moment like a volcano. Nathan had no right to be saying those things, and he had even less of a right to be touching Jones. Before Dan knew it, he found himself walking rapidly towards Nathan, fist bunched ready to hit.
“Hey, Dan, how’s Jones?” Nathan asked smugly. “He looked a bit flustered when I just passed him on the way out. Lover’s tiff?”
He pulled back and punched, Dan’s fist bouncing off Nathan’s face with a satisfying crunching sound, not too dissimilar to the sound of a car driving across gravel. Dan left the pub and looked back through the window at Nathan sprawled out on the floor. And for the first time that day Dan smiled.
The noise could be heard in the next street. Dan stood outside the House of Jones and listened to the thump-thump-thump coming from upstairs. He took a deep breath and opened the door, walking up to the flat. As he got closer to the living room he could hear more and more layers of the music; scratching, cowbells, and the sound of a drill being played backwards.
Jones ignored him as Dan entered the room, keeping his gaze fixed on his decks. Normally Jones would smile when he saw Dan. He’d play his latest music to him. Perhaps—oh fuck—
Dan stumbled to the kitchen, the brandy he’d drunk making him weave across the room. Somewhere he had a bottle stashed away for these kinds of emergencies. He rummaged under the sink, in the cupboard, in the larder—he was so drunk he couldn’t remember where he’d hidden it. Giving up, he walked back into the living room. The half-empty bottle was lying on top of Jones’s decks. Dan wouldn’t have minded but it was the good stuff, and in a fit of pique he went over and snatched the bottle, before settling down on the sofa. He swigged down the brandy, relishing the burn that travelled down his throat.
He stared at Jones.
There was nothing new in Dan looking at Jones. Dan would watch Jones make his music. Jones’s slender arms were often exposed by the vest-tops he liked to wear. His arms would move and Dan would get lost in the elegance of his movements. Dan watched, head back, swigging more brandy from the bottle. The music came to an abrupt halt; Jones was staring back at him. It was the first time they’d made eye contact since the scene in the pub, and Dan felt his cheeks begin to flush. He took another swig of brandy. Jones stalked over, and sat down next to Dan, snatching the bottle and taking a long drink from it. Their thighs were touching. It made Dan’s cheeks feel hot.
“Are you gay?” Dan asked.
Jones gave him a look and swigged again from the bottle.
“Why does it matter?” he said.
Dan scratched his stubble in irritation at Jones’s evasion.
“Answer the question,” he growled.
Even though Jones looked like he was really pissed off with Dan (after all, some part of Dan’s brain pointed out, he could have phrased the question a bit less bluntly) Jones still answered.
“I suppose I’m in-between.”
“In-between what?” Dan asked; his brain couldn’t cope with obliqueness at the moment. He could tell this was annoying Jones, who snapped back at him.
“Are you really that thick?”
The cogs in Dan’s brain were starting to move again rather sluggishly. The words left his mouth before his brain could properly check their appropriateness.
“So you are gay?”
“I’m bisexual. There’s a difference.” Jones paused, then asked, “So, Dan, what are you?”
He wanted to say it wasn’t fair Jones asking like that, that really Jones had no business asking, but he knew he couldn’t because he was the one who had started this conversation. Dan had always tried to avoid thinking about things like this because he preferred seeing people as being gay or straight. The idea that people might be in-between freaked Dan out, mainly because he would start to think about himself and he didn’t like to. If he thought too hard about it maybe he would come to conclusions about his sexuality that did not involve binary oppositions. It annoyed Dan that Jones was so sure of himself; that he was so confident in his own sexuality. Jones embraced being in-between, he dared to defy labels of straight or gay. And that irritated Dan because right now he didn’t know what he was. He wasn’t a bloody teenager—he was in his mid-thirties—it was embarrassing.
“I thought I was straight,” Dan whispered, because he had really had himself believing that until Jones had walked into that pub that evening, until The Doubts had started to creep in.
Jones passed the bottle back to Dan, who took a gigantic swig. He could feel the heat of Jones’s body as they sat there plastered thigh to thigh. Neither of them said anything. Dan passed the bottle back to Jones.
The next morning Dan woke up to find Jones curled up against him on the sofa. They were wedged in together. When he adjusted his position Dan fell, landing hard on the floor. Jones mumbled in his sleep. He looked peaceful and Dan sat on the floor watching him for a few moments. Why did he like looking at Jones so much anyway?
The morning light glinted off the almost-empty bottle of brandy. Dan groped around for it, finally touching the cold glass with the tips of his fingers. He continued to watch Jones sleeping and drained the last of the brandy. The bottle now empty, Dan began to notice other things in the room. Things like how the morning light painted Jones’s skin with a golden sheen, or how perfect Jones’s eyelashes seemed. Jones was normally in perpetual motion; Dan liked watching him at rest. He’d never really analysed why before.
A musty smell pervaded his consciousness, spoiling the magical moment. Dan sniffed; it was him. He made his way to the shower shedding a trail of rumpled clothes in his wake.
The water was warm, and Dan squeezed out some of Jones’s shower gel into his hand. He always used Jones’s shower gel. The analytical part of his brain was still half-asleep, and Dan was thankful for that as he washed himself. When he finished he smelt like Jones. That was odd. Dan knew what Jones smelt like. He stood in the cubicle for a while after he’d turned the water off, resting his forehead against the tiles until his skin became goose bumps and he got out to dry himself off.
Dan pulled the robe from the door and wandered towards the kitchen. He could hear Jones and Claire talking in hushed whispers. They were silent by the time Dan walked through the door. He looked at them.
“Marmite on toast,” Claire offered, handing him a slice.
It was perfect—the butter had melted and the Marmite itself was spread in the thinnest of layers. Dan took a bite.
As Jones squeezed past he stopped and looked at Dan. Jones was very close, so close Dan could feel the heat radiating off of him.
“You never ask when you borrow my stuff, you just take it,” Jones said, before disappearing into the living room with a plateful of toast.
Claire looked at Dan. She was angry.
“Dan, you’re an idiot,” she said in exasperation.
Dan munched on his toast, finishing the slice off and licking his fingers.
“Everyone has been saying that lately.”
Claire scowled at him.
“Jones explained things. He thinks you’re repressed, I just think you’re a wanker for leading him on like that.”
“Leading him on?” Dan asked, his voice almost turning into a squeak.
“Come on, Dan. There must be a brain in there somewhere!”
Now he was confused. Had he been leading Jones on? He was too hung-over to think about things like this. Dan thought he might still be drunk.
“Why don’t you apologise to him for coming over like a homophobic twat, and just kiss him or something,” Claire said, arms folded.
She may be his little sister, but Claire could be a formidable force. It wasn’t wise to cross her, as Joshua Middlestone had found out when he had spread that awful rumour about her at school. Of course Dan had offered to flatten the bastard when he got home from University, but Claire had been able to deal with him on her own. Dan still winced whenever he saw a compass in a stationery shop.
“Kiss him?” Dan asked, unsure, part horrified, part intrigued.
“For fuck’s sake!” Claire screamed giving Dan a very hard push until he tumbled through into the living room, where Jones was sitting on the sofa eating Marmite covered toast.
Dan pulled himself up straight before finally working up the courage to meet Jones’s gaze.
“Look Jones, erm, I’m sorry.”
Jones stared at Dan, still not smiling. He was angry. Everyone was angry with Dan this morning. And Jones started to shout.
“You’re standing in here smelling of my shower gel, wearing my robe, you sleep on my sofa—I let your sister stay in my flat—why the fuck did you think I let you do those things?”
Dan must’ve thought about it, surely, once. He looked at his feet, feeling ashamed.
“And what the fuck was I meant to think about you doing all of that stuff?” Jones asked.
And of course Jones was right. He was fucking right. Whether he had consciously meant it or not Dan had been leading Jones on. He was an idiot after all. He sighed, and sat down next to Jones on the sofa.
“I’m sorry Jones—I just never thought—” Dan stammered, “I didn’t realise that I was giving out that kind of… message.”
Jones offered Dan his last piece of toast and they both ate in silence.
“Did you—did you like it when you thought I was leading you on?” Dan whispered.
Jones wiped the crumbs from his lips and turned to look at Dan. It was a shy gaze.
“Yes,” Jones admitted, his eyes darting quickly away from Dan’s.
Everything began to click into place for Dan; the thing was he didn’t know how he could begin to fix this mess. Perhaps if he started off in a small way. Dan brushed his fingers over Jones’s hand, exploring with touch for the very first time. Jones looked down and interlaced their hands.
The thump-whizz-whizz-thump of Jones’s music was very reassuring. Dan laid right back on the sofa, every so often smiling up at Jones, whose face broke into a brilliant grin whenever they made eye contact. It was good to just watch Jones at work; he raked his eyes across Jones’s slim biceps, openly enjoying the view.
His mobile vibrated on the floor, skittering across it like some kind of shiny plastic and metal beetle. Dan lazily dipped a hand towards the floor, stopping the phone’s journey. He grinned in a mischievous way when he saw Jonatton’s name flash up on screen, and waved at Jones who turned the music down.
“So you’ve finally got your phone on,” Jonatton said acerbically. “Are by any chance coming in today? I only ask because you’ve got deadlines to meet.”
“I’ve been doing research.”
And he had been—lots and lots of it. One of the main discoveries had been that Marmite was infinitely more enjoyable as a foodstuff when tasted via Jones’s lips.
“Research?” Jonatton asked, almost sarcastic.
“You know, for the gay-on-gay sex piece,” Dan said smugly, looking up at Jones who smirked back at Dan.
There was a pause on the line, brief and barely perceptible, but it had been there. Dan grinned in triumph.
“I want the piece emailed to me by noon tomorrow,” Jonatton replied in a perfect dead-pan tone.
“Will do,” Dan answered, rolling his eyes, turning his phone off.
“He’s such a fuckwit,” Dan sighed.
Jones nodded and the thump-whiz-whiz-thump of his music juddered up in volume. Dan settled back down into his previous position on the sofa, watching Jones at work. Later he’d make them Marmite on toast, but now it was just perfect, lying there letting the music wash over him.