Category: Nathan Barley
Pairing: Dan Ashcroft/Jones
Warning: Character Death
Length: 1-5k words
Notes: The story starts with a character death, but no one we know from the show. These characters do not belong to me and no money is being made from this story.
The House of Smith and Jones by Jackie Thomas
Dan walked home from the tube at just after midnight, half-drunk and chilled by the bitter, February wind. The alcohol in his system had turned his brain into a rolling ocean, so he reacted slowly to someone torpedoing from the house he was passing, and crashing into him.
It was a man, a few years younger than himself, who looked like he had got dressed at a jumble sale. Dan focused on a legless action figure swinging insanely from a lanyard around his neck, and took a while to realise he was being yelled at.
“Phone. Sorry. Fuck. Can I borrow your phone?”
More words tumbled out in variations of the same sentence until Dan’s tidal mind could contain them, and recognise the desperate urgency to the request. He found his phone and handed it over. The man fumbled with the key pad and dialled 999.
“Ambulance,” he said with panicked tears waiting behind brightening blue eyes. “It’s my mate, I can’t wake him up. I think he’s OD’d. I don’t know. I don’t know, heroin probably.” He rattled off the address and then listened without breathing. “Okay.”
He looked at Dan. “I have to go in. I’ll – I’ll bring your phone back.”
The young man shot back into the house, the boarded up door swinging but not closing behind him. Dan stared stupidly at the space he had occupied, wondering vaguely if he had fallen for some sort of con.
A luminous poster for a club had been pasted to the door. ‘DJs Alias Smith and Jones’ were on, but the night was more than a year ago and the poster was weathered and dissolving.
Wheels in his mind turned slowly. The man who had his phone had seemed genuinely worried. Distraught even. He overcame his conviction that he would be stabbed with a screwdriver if he went inside, and pushed the door open.
The flat was immediately familiar from all the places he had rented since leaving home. A narrow, musty bike shed of a corridor led to a kitchen with surfaces scarcely visible beneath unwashed plates and takeaway cartons.
A case of twelve-inch records tumbled across the carpet of a dark living room. Beyond the living room was a small, foul smelling bedroom, lit by a dim bedside lamp.
Here he found the young man still holding the phone between his ear and shoulder. Another man lay on the bed. He had been put in the recovery position, but an instruction to check his mouth for anything stopping him breathing seemed harder to follow. Dan switched on the ceiling light.
He sobered instantly and wished he hadn’t. The friend, a tall, tellingly thin man with grey skin was clearly already dead.
He took the young man by the shoulders and his phone skittered across the floor. “Leave it,” he said. “It’s too late.”
The man resisted at first, trying to push him away, but then he brushed the cold skin of his friend’s face, and stumbled instinctively back. Dan steadied him as he gasped and staggered. Then he twisted round unexpectedly, as if he wanted to escape from the room and instead walked into Dan. The streaked auburn mop fell against him and he found the live body, suddenly in his arms, almost as big a shock as the dead one.
When the ambulance arrived some fifteen minutes later the young man was standing by the bed, staring at his friend. A paramedic bustled him efficiently out of the way, but quickly confirmed there was nothing more to be done. The police followed half an hour later.
They led him into the living room and sat him down on one of the two sofas. He was given a glass of water while official-looking activity went on all around. He told the police his name was Matt Jones and identified the dead body as his friend, Smith.
Dan, having given his name and address, and convinced sceptical policemen of his innocent passer-by status, thought he could reasonably retrieve his phone and leave.
But he watched them carrying Smith’s body from the flat in a zipped up bag, and he saw Jones quietly following its progress with unblinking eyes. Instead of leaving, he muttered a curse and sat down on the second sofa.
It was a bleak room, undisturbed by housework for too long, even by Dan’s low standards; no corner seemed free of rubbish and filth, something that looked like a needle had been discarded in a coffee mug at his feet, cigarette burns scarred every surface. There was no TV, no CD, no phone, not even a poster on the wall. Dan shivered; Death had been a regular visitor here even if he had previously left empty handed.
He listened to Jones’ answers to the questions he was asked by one of the police officers. The gentle South London accent, tense with the effort of keeping steady and clear.
“I’m a DJ. He is…was…too.”
DJ’s Alias Smith and Jones. They had been together for five years.
Then everyone else was gone. The flat sank into quiet and the noise of the North London night seeped in through the warped wood of the sash windows. A car manoeuvred cautiously from a parking space just outside, and a dog set up a mournful barking.
“Do you want me to phone someone for you?” Dan asked. Jones shook his head.
“I’m all right.”
He looked down at his hands in his lap, and didn’t look up again until a murky daylight began to creep along the walls and floor. Then he gazed at Dan as if he had just woken to find him there.
Dan got up and turned on the electric heater in the corner of the room. Then, he made tea, picking his way through the devastation in the kitchen to find clean mugs and kettle. When he returned he found Jones kneeling in front of the fire.
“I’m glad he’s dead,” he said and began, after a faltering start, to cry, with heavy ragged sobs and tears dropping on to his black jeans.
Dan kneeled next to him, a mug in each hand. “Fuck,” he said, supportively.
When Jones finally stopped crying he wiped his face with the heel of his hand and shakily accepted one of the teas.
“I don’t know your name,” he said, and Dan told him.
“Look, I’m sorry – about your friend.”
Jones nodded. “He died a long time ago I reckon.”
He wrapped his hands around the mug to absorb its heat, and Dan remembered a small bottle of vodka in his jacket pocket. Jones let him pour a measure into his mug and he added some to his own. It made the tea taste foul, but it was strong and warming and tranquilising.
Jones cautiously sipped his drink and Dan lit a cigarette, wandering to the curtainless window to smoke and watch the streetlights blink out one by one.
Eventually, when Jones began to nod off into sleep, Dan took the mug from his hand and made him lie down on one of the sofas. He curled himself up and slept almost immediately.
Dan found a blanket; not from the death bed but from the back of the sofa, and put it over him. Jones began to stir and he rested his hand on his arm until he was still again.
Dan fell asleep too, sitting next to him on the crowded couch. He was woken hours later by Jones moving against the tangle of blanket to sit up.
“I’ve got to go out now,” he said, voice heavy with sleep and sadness. “I’ve got to go and see his mum and dad.”
“Right. Do you want me to go with you?” His mouth said to the bemusement of his still semi-conscious brain.
Jones laughed a little.
“It’s okay, mate.” He pressed a badly aimed kiss to the side of Dan’s head and ear. “Thanks for looking after me, though.”
One Friday night, no more than a month later, Dan had been dragged off to a club with the SugarApe crowd when he was just a little too pissed to resist them.
It was the sort of uber-trendy place they loved and Dan was usually too scruffy and annoyed to be let into. This time, though he was somehow overlooked by the bouncers and he trailed in with the others. The place was packed with a post-pub crowd, and Dan felt the heated air instantly dampening his clothes and hair. He quickly lost the others in the scrum for the bar, and he found himself standing by himself with a beer.
It was a good night though. Even he could sense it. The usual pretentious barrage of noise had been replaced by something different, something Dan couldn’t place. It was a hard, alien sound, far from tuneful, but hypnotic and with an undefined darkness threading through it. It had the crowd moving fluidly together.
It was not enough to make Dan dance, but he closed his eyes and almost forgot to think. The frustrations of his job, his impending homelessness, the deeper nameless confusions, all began to stumble away from him, just for a blessed moment.
When the DJ eventually changed over, the atmosphere shifted. The new guy wasn’t bad but he didn’t have the crowd in the same way. People were doing their own thing, the place grew colder, the spell was broken and Dan went back to concentrating on his drinking.
The night deteriorated further when Jonatton arrived, smiling imperiously, as his little flock gathered around him, and sucking what was left of the breathable air from the room.
Dan spotted a door standing open near the bar and made his way outside.
There was a crowd drinking and smoking in the darkness of a small, outdoor bar area, where the roar of the music was dulled and the air cooler. He found a bit of spare wall to lean on, and lit a cigarette.
He looked down and saw that the hunched shape, sitting on the floor near him, was Jones. He was, once again, decked out in a strange combination of layers, accessories and an unsettling amount of eye make up. He sat with his knees drawn up to his chest, clutching a bottle of brightly coloured something.
“Hello,” Dan said shifting over and sitting down next to him.
He offered Jones a cigarette, and when he accepted, lit it for him. He took an experimental drag, but seemed more interested in watching spirals of smoke disappearing up into the darkness.
“Did you like the set?” Jones asked.
“What? You mean the -.” He put two and two together. “Was that you?”
Jones nodded, and Dan suddenly understood the river of melancholy he had heard running through the music.
“Shit. It was great, Jones. Really great.”
“First gig back,” Jones said, and then slowly. “And here you are.”
Dan had no idea how to answer; there was an intimacy to the simple statement that threw him suddenly, and not unpleasantly, off balance.
“Dan, do you want to dance?”
“I don’t dance,” he answered automatically and Jones laughed, probably at his evident alarm.
“You should,” he said. “Everyone should dance.”
He wouldn’t be persuaded, but there was something about Jones that kept waking the human in him.
“Is that what you and your friend, Smith used to do?” He asked.
“At the beginning,” Jones said thoughtfully. “He was brilliant; he was taller than you and skinny, he seemed like he had more arms and legs than anyone else, and he danced like a pogoing dragonfly.”
The memory tailed off and they sat together, Dan smoking, and Jones watching his cigarette burn out, resting a chin on his knee.
“Thanks for making me remember that,” Jones said. “I’ve only been able to think of the shit.”
“Ashcroft! Aaash….croft!” He could hear the voices of Ned and Rufus calling him from the doorway. That meant it was time to move on; to a party or bar, fractionally higher on the cool scale. Or it was time to embarrass him in some other way yet to be revealed.
“Ohh Danny boy,” they sang, outside now, and getting closer.
“Arse,” he said and Jones grinned.
“That your posse?”
“My fucking curse.” He realised he would not be able to ignore them, so he crushed out his cigarette and started to get up. “I’ve got to go.”
Jones stopped him by taking his arm. “See you around, yeah.”
Despite what everyone at SugarApe was saying, Dan had not been evicted for not paying his rent. The landlord was selling up and had given all the tenants a bare month’s notice to quit.
Dan had done nothing to find somewhere new to live. Partly because he had no money for a deposit, partly because he knew he wouldn’t find anywhere as cheap as his poky little attic, and partly because he was incapable of doing anything in advance of a deadline.
Which was how he came to be struggling down to the tube on eviction day, hauling a rucksack and two bin bags, and planning on temporarily moving into the SugarApe office. One of the bin bags gave way before he got very far, spilling books, files and two saucepans on to the pavement, damp from a recent drizzle.
“Shit. Fuck.” He said to no one in particular.
He gathered everything up into the broken bag, dragged it the ten yards back down the road to Jones’ house and banged on the door.
The door was still boarded up, but the remains of the gig poster had been scraped away. The words ‘House of Jones’ had been painted on in its place, with a few random radioactive symbols.
He banged irritably on the door a few more times until he heard a grumpy, ‘keep your knickers on’, and Jones finally opened it.
Jones greeted him with a yawn. He was messy haired, half-dressed and still half asleep. He took in the picture Dan presented.
“Are you moving in?” He asked.
“What? No. I’m moving effing out,” He pointed down at the broken bag. “Have you got any bin bags?”
“No. Well, not butch black ones like that. Come in.”
Before Dan could object, Jones scooped up the broken bag and its contents and disappeared inside. Dan hesitated; the last time he had gone through this door, he’d had his first in-person sighting of a dead body.
“Oi, come on, Dan,” Jones yelled from down the corridor. “There’s hardly any corpses this time, honest.”
“Oh, well then.” He followed him in, rucksack still on his back, negotiating the narrow space with difficulty.
Jones deposited his books, saucepans, and great, unfinished novel onto the kitchen floor.
“Dump em here, mate.” He said, before darting out of the room. “Back in a sec.”
Dan dropped the second bin bag and rucksack onto the floor, and waited in the kitchen for Jones. There was a different atmosphere to the flat from when he was last here. It was obvious immediately. The kitchen was far from tidy, but there was something less ingrained about the dirt and mess, as if some kind of chaotic system was in place.
He looked into the living room, and here too, there was a livelier energy dominating. The evidence of decay was fading, replaced by the paraphernalia of music; a set of decks in the corner, a keyboard on one of the sofas, boxes and boxes of records, a CD player and suitcase of CDs, all back from wherever they had been stashed.
There was a smell of new paint coming from somewhere. Remembering the last time he had seen the bedroom, he hoped it was from there.
Jones returned, having brushed his hair into a different kind of mess, and put on a few more layers over the vest and jeans he had opened the door in.
“Stay for a coffee, yeah. I’ve got this new thing.”
He began reconstructing an Italian espresso maker from the pieces it had been broken up into on the draining board. He added water, and an awful lot of ground coffee, and set the thing on the hob to brew.
Then he turned his attention to Dan. “So, how come you’re moving?”
“The landlord’s selling up.”
“Bummer. Have you got somewhere else?”
“Nah, I’m going to doss at the office for a while.”
Jones looked appalled; which was a bit of cheek considering the squalor he lived in.
“Don’t be daft, stay here.”
“Oh,” Dan said. “No.”
“Blimey, well at least you gave it careful thought.”
“Sorry. No, it’s just, I make flatmates hate me.”
“You’re talking to an insomniac with a mixing desk. Oh, go on,” he said, actually bouncing a little. “You might as well just stay on the sofa until you find a place.”
“It’s best for everyone if I don’t, believe me.”
Jones’ face fell, which Dan found himself sorry for. Unaccountably he liked this effervescent version of Jones as much as he had been drawn to the quiet, sad one.
He couldn’t look at him, so he looked down at something he had absently picked up from the drainer, a rubber washer thing, it looked like –
“Hey, shouldn’t this be in the coffee maker?”
At that moment there was horrible explosion as coffee grains and water burst out of the top of the espresso maker. Jones instinctively ducked forward, but the back of his head was hit by a shower of half brewed coffee. Dan had been standing far enough away to miss the impact, but he pushed Jones into the living room just as the thing went up again with a pop.
“Fuck,” Jones said his voice rising. “I didn’t know it could do that. I didn’t even know.”
“Yeah, I don’t think it’s meant to.”
There was nothing now but a low growl from the machine and Jones ventured in, shielding his face, to switch off the gas. Then he ran back and sheltered behind the wall with Dan. They peered out together.
“I think it’s dormant,” Dan said, and smiled as Jones collapsed into fits of giggles.
When Jones had washed the coffee out of his hair they went round the corner for a pint. They came back later because Jones wanted to make the coffee pot explode again. After that there didn’t seem to be any point staggering half-drunk to SugarApe, so he stayed.
Dan was at the bar, drowning the day. He had started early with a bottle of paint stripper vodka and carried on, here at the club, sinking double after double, until all the humiliations disappeared beneath the murky alcoholic surface. Until all there was left was the small victory of his Idiots piece; his bitter revenge. And all there was left was dancing, jumping Jones.
It was getting to that stage of the night now, when it was just the survivors. The drinkers, like Dan; focused and determined. Or the dancers who punched the air, closed their eyes, and just moved. Or the ones who found another body to press against in the darkest corners. And Jones.
Dan watched him diving in and out of the crowd on the dance floor. He was at home there, in that inferno. A bee in its own strobe-lit, ten thousand decibel hive.
Jones wasn’t a big drinker, but tonight he had loyally matched Dan glass for glass. He was still standing, but it showed in the whirling, deviant, abandon of his dancing.
The track changed; ethereal keyboard and a woman’s haunting electric voice dissolved into a thumping bass. Jones, weaving back into Dan’s eye line, stood suddenly still amid the wave of motion.
After a moment he peeled away from the crowd and made his way unsteadily to Dan. His T shirt was drenched in sweat and his hair escaped damply from the scarf he had tied, bandana-style, around it. He took Dan’s hand and tried to drag him off to the dance floor.
“Piss off,” Dan said, shaking free.
Jones smiled a blurred smile, settling for taking some of Dan’s drink, instead.
“One day you’re going to dance with me,” he said.
“Yeah,” said Dan. “I know.”
“Yay, Ashcroft,” Jones said, in vague triumph, snaking his arms round Dan’s neck.
“Get off,” Dan said, removing him. He tugged the silly, pink bandana down over Jones’ eyes and Jones began a blind-folded dance; his hands clasped loosely above his head, the pounding beat running far ahead of his lazy swaying.
“You should move in permanently,” he said. “You’re a right laugh.”
Dan assumed this was sarcasm, but when he looked for the cheeky grin, Jones was lost to his own reverie.
“Okay,” he said, and Jones smiled.
The bass line faded down and the keyboard started again.
“This song,” Jones said. “Smith always finished his set with it.”
Jones had not spoken Smith’s name once in the month Dan had lodged on his sofa. The man had been there though, waiting in the shadows, existing in junk mail no one would throw away, and in subtle ansaphone messages from debt recovery agents.
Dan tugged the blindfold back up and Jones watched him, serious and drunk.
“Maybe,” Jones said. “He’s saying goodbye.”
“Could be,” Dan murmured. “Would that be good?”
Jones nodded, uncertain. “I did love him, Dan.”
Dan put an arm around him, pulling him in close, and Jones became very still as the music washed over them both.