[identity profile] you-legwarmers.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] wl_fanfiction
Title: Try To Slip Past His Defense
Genre: Angst; hurt/comfort
Rating: PG-13
Characters: Jeff; Greg
Pairing: Greg/Jeff, sort of.
Summary: AU. Jeff is a bartender and Greg has plenty to talk about but not much to say.
A/N: Little ficlet before the finale of Ten Days. :)

He had never needed an excuse to drink before, but as Greg opened the scuffed wooden door to the dingy bar, he found himself counting every reason he could conjure why he was doing this.
Get as drunk as he could stand, then drink a little more. Get himself over the edge, that was the key. Over the edge. And he would disappear. It wasn't much of a plan.
But sometimes things just happened when you were drunk, and with any luck it would come more easily after a few (or a few dozen) drinks. Of course, this hadn't exactly been his lucky week. Month. Year.

It was almost empty inside. Two lone drunks and one man behind the bar. Perfect. The kind of place where you made questionable decisions without a second glance. The perfect stereotype of a small-town northwest bar. Dim lights. Cold black linoleum floor. Cigarette smoke stinging his eyes to the point of watering.
That was the smoke, wasn't it?

If the row of bar seats hadn't been completely vacant, he wouldn't have considered sitting there. But they were and so he did. No point in hiding in the corner.

The young bartender was obviously new. He was smiling, for one thing. His dark brown hair stuck out every which way. Wide hazel eyes, very cute and almost childlike.
Wiping the counter with a rag stained with what Greg hoped was red wine, he gestured that he would be right with him. Greg shrugged. No point in rushing. No place to be, not tonight, not ever.

"What can I get you?" He was standing directly in front of Greg now, grinning almost shyly.

"Hm," Greg grunted, not wanting to say anything he didn't absolutely have to. Now was not the time to be associating with anyone who might have the good-citizen gene in them. "Vodka on ice."
The glass appeared in front of him in a second. He downed it as quickly as possible, relishing the cold, bitter burn.

To his surprise, the glass was refilled right away. His eyes snapped open. The bartender hadn't left his spot; in fact, he appeared to be waiting there. Greg gave him a suspicious scowl, to which he responded with a shrug.
"I know I don't look like I've been doing this for long, but nobody drinks that quick without needing another round right away." He went back to wiping an invisible stain off the countertop, purposely avoiding Greg's irritated stare. "Especially at 2 AM," he added, wondering if he was pushing it.

Annoyed at this stranger's perception, Greg concentrated on his drink. In less than a minute, that one was gone too. He began to consider leaving and finding another bar while he still could. Or any place where silence was guaranteed. Like his apartment.
But of course, he didn't have an apartment anymore. It had gotten too much to afford when his monthly income was next to nothing. At least the bar stayed open all night, just in case.

Jeff, the bartender, kept his gaze on the dead-eyed man sitting alone at the bar. He was obviously drinking to forget, and judging by the looks of it, it would take more than a couple vodkas to do the trick.
The man had graying light brown hair, quite curly in texture. Tinted glasses did a good job at hiding his eyes, especially in the poor light of the bar. Overall he was nice-looking. Disheveled, maybe, but still normal, which was more than Jeff could say about a lot of the people who came to bars like this.
Without thinking much about it, he handed the bespectacled man a tall glass of water.

"I didn't ask for water," Greg muttered, maintaining a surly attitude.

"I know that. But you're going to have one hell of a hangover if you're planning on drinking like that all night." The bartender was facing away now, reaching up to grab a bottle from a high shelf. He was taller than he'd first appeared.

Greg snorted at the words. "Thanks, but I'm good." He wasn't planning on having a hangover in the morning. Not if this worked out like it was supposed to.

Jeff hesitated for a moment. The patron obviously wanted to be left alone. Under any other circumstances, Jeff would have shut up and kept the drinks coming like he was expected to. Hell, he wouldn't have started talking in the first place. But this man gave off a feeling of desperation. And sadness.
"Trust me, you won't get any less drunk. You'll just be less dehydrated."

To keep the bartender off his back, Greg relented and sipped the water, motioning for a third drink. It was given to him promptly, but the hand that delivered it lingered for just a second too long. It took all of Greg's strength not to look up; he could feel those eyes boring into him.
But the other man spoke anyway. "I'm Jeff," he said.

With every intention of ignoring the introduction, Greg surprised himself by answering. "Greg."

Jeff smiled a little. "You from around here?"

"No. San Francisco originally." He gulped a mixture of vodka and melting ice cubes. "Guess I've lived here about a year, though."

"Why the move, if I can ask?" Jeff tried not to sound too interested, but his pulse was picking up at the sudden response from this mysterious vodka lover.

The man in question shrugged. "Trying to expand myself. If you know what I mean." He raised one eyebrow suggestively, and felt a pang of satisfaction when Jeff laughed. Almost immediately, he shut the warm feeling out. This was not part of the plan; besides, he knew they always laughed the first time. Then eventually they realized what a self-absorbed waste of time he really was.

"You should try stand-up," said Jeff, oblivious to the train of bitter memories sweeping through Greg's brain.

After a moment, the comment registered. "I have. I mean, I do. I'm a comedian. Well, I used to be." Greg realized he was rambling and was about to ask for another drink when Jeff began speaking again.

"You are? Are you doing any shows around here?" the attractive man said with more than a hint of enthusiasm.

Shaking his head rapidly, Greg snapped, "I said I used to be. Not anymore. Can I get another--"

"Hard business to get into," Jeff continued, babbling on. He realized he was trying to distract Greg from the alcohol. Talking to him was nice, and people usually sucked at conversation when they were wasted. "I've always loved comedy, but it seems like nobody stays in that scene for long, you know?"

Greg knew. He knew too well how easy it was to shatter a career that balanced entirely on who you knew and what you said. He was finished here. "Yeah. Right. I'm out of here. What do I owe?" Digging his wallet out of his pocket, he stood up ready to split before anything else came up. Screw the vodka; he could probably do this without being inebriated.

But to both their surprise, Jeff reached out, grabbing Greg's coat sleeve. "Wait. Don't go. I didn't realize that was a bad subject. I'm sorry."

That damned pretty face again, almost a pout. Oozing sympathy. Reluctantly, Greg halted, but he didn't sit back down yet. "Forget about it. I just need another drink."

Jeff exhaled in quiet relief. He couldn't let Greg leave; something just wasn't right. "Tell you what. Next one's on me."

"Yeah? What's the catch?" The snarky, cynical man wouldn't let himself be flattered by this bartender who didn't know the first thing about him. His guard was back up, full strength this time.

But either Jeff didn't notice, or he didn't care. He just handed Greg his drink. "No catch. I just want to talk. Well, actually I want to listen."

"And you expect me to talk," Greg concluded, voice flat and tired. He shook his head. "I came here to drink myself into oblivion, not chat up a cute bartender." It took him almost a full thirty seconds to notice the bright scarlet of Jeff's face and realize what he'd just said out loud. "Fuck. Sorry. It's the vodka."

"No-- I--it's, you know, fine," Jeff stammered. "I, uh, I know a lot of guys wouldn't like it if another guy said that to them. But for me, it doesn't matter, you know?"

"Normally I wouldn't have said it, either," admitted Greg. "I realize there's zero evidence to support it, but I'm not gay."
Another laugh from Jeff. Fuck. Would he ever let him leave here in peace?

"Totally understandable," was all Jeff had to say to that. Then, "All right. So you're not a spill-your-heart-out drinker. I get that. It's just that you looked like you were ready to jump in front of a speeding train when you got up to leave."
He smiled a little, but it faded instantly when Greg only stared back at him, looking absolutely broken, guilty and defeated. And then it clicked. "Shit. Fuck. I didn't mean to make a joke out of it," he said apologetically.

With a shrug, Greg broke the stare and removed his glasses. He rubbed his eyes, which were watering again. From the smoke in the air, he told himself. "Maybe not that route exactly, but seems like you've got the idea." A deep sigh punctuated his sentence. When Jeff stayed quiet, Greg found himself continuing. "Impulse, you know? I figured getting wasted would make it easier. You, uh...meeting you wasn't part of the plan." It was hard not to slur his words, but it was even harder to keep talking once he'd begun.
"I just got evicted from my place last week," he explained, feeling pathetic. "Wasn't making any money. No gigs. Turns out I'm no good with people, can you imagine?" A weak attempt at a smile left him drained, so he rushed on. "Anyway, nobody was there when it counted. I had a fiancé, but she left a note and split about a month ago. My friends only like me when I'm making them laugh or getting them high. And the worst part was, everyone kept saying I didn't try. Even when I had to work night shifts just so I could make enough to pretend like I was even close to 'okay', I just never tried hard enough for anybody."

Jeff hung onto every word. After Greg had finished speaking, staring intently into his empty glass with shame, all the younger man could do was stand and process everything he'd just been told.
After what seemed like hours, he gathered the nerve to walk around the counter and in front of the bar. He sat on the empty barstool next to Greg and touched his arm hesitantly.
"I want to say I'm sorry," he told him. "And I'm so glad you didn't leave. Do you know how much I would have hated myself if you'd walked away tonight, and then tomorrow I heard that you'd..." The unspoken words hung in the air. "Anyway, I know I don't know you. And what I say to you probably won't make a difference. But let me tell you this. If you can make me like you this much in less than an hour, then I promise there's plenty of people out there who care about you."

Before they knew what to say, Greg had thrown his arms around Jeff, who returned the embrace with a protective, tight hold. It took him a moment to realize that his shirt was wet, and the tears were Greg's, and neither of them minded.
When at last they broke apart and wiped away the remaining tears, Jeff got a good look into Greg's eyes. They were a deep, intelligent brown. And even through the slightly intoxicated glaze, the returning glimmer of life in them was clear.

"Hey Jeff?" Greg asked sheepishly.

"Yeah?" said Jeff.

"I just realized I probably shouldn't drive home."

Jeff held up his car keys. "I wasn't going to let you."

Greg let out a laugh despite himself. "Yeah? Since when?"

"Pretty much since you walked in the door." And it was true.
They left the bar together. The earlier freezing rain had turned into a powdery snow. Jeff's car, parked across the street, was warm inside and smelled like aftershave and bubblegum.
Jeff glanced over at Greg once more. "Do you want to talk about it any more?"

Greg shook his head; not because he didn't want to talk about it, but because he was suddenly exhausted. And for now, he could sleep knowing he was safe, that there was at least one more reason to live in this world, and that when he was ready, Jeff would be there to listen to him.
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