"Todd, is that you?" Stephen called without looking up from the computer. The slam of keys into the dish and the door locks across answered, before Todd's voice came from the hall, clipped and fed up.
"You'd better hope so ‘cause I just locked up."
Stephen turned his chair around towards the darkened hall, attention caught by the tone.
"Not much fun?"
"I was playing with Chris and Matt. You'd think I'd learn, wouldn't you?"
"Want to talk about it?" Stephen invited. Todd leaned against the doorpost, looking somewhat jealously at the computer.
"I'm done," Stephen said simply, turning it off. Todd still slipped away before he got there, shoulders hunching a little to ward him off, and went ahead of him into the kitchen to snap the kettle on. Stephen leaned on the counter, watching.
Todd waited at the stove, keeping his back to Stephen.
"That water will never boil if you keep standing there and watching it," Stephen said gently.
Todd shrugged and continued to stand there. The set of his shoulders told Stephen that there was a mix of anger and sadness underneath the cool exterior. He tried again.
"What happened tonight?"
Todd slammed his hands down on the stove before turning around, his eyes bright with unshed tears. "THEM. THEY happened tonight! I should KNOW better than to think we could all play Trivial Pursuit without a fight. On top of THAT, I should know better than to give a shit!"
"Did they argue?" Stephen asked quietly.
"Of course they argued, they ALWAYS bloody argue. THEN they had a fight."
"Where was Joe?" Stephen asked.
"Joe broke it up." Todd scuffed at the floor tiles. "Came down and pulled them apart, asked me if I wanted to stay-"
The phone rang. Todd glanced up, mouth twisting, already moving.
"I'll get it-"
Stephen took it out of his hand. "Hello?"
Todd walked away and stood, staring out of the kitchen window into the dark garden. Stephen spoke for a moment, then hung up and came to put his hands on Todd's shoulders. "Joe was worried about you."
"He said you left in tears. He was too worried about Chris and Matt tearing each other's throats out at the time to be able to take you home like he wanted."
"I was okay to drive." Todd hunched his shoulders under Stephen's hands. Stephen held on.
"Was it THAT bad a fight?"
The kettle boiling allowed Todd to slip out from under Stephen's hands. He quickly made a mug of tea and set it down on the table, slumping into a chair. Stephen pulled out a chair across from him and sat down.
"Tell me about it," he prompted.
"It's just one of their usual fights," Todd said, burying himself in the cup so he didn't have to answer further.
Stephen waited a moment for Todd to put his mug down. "If it was a normal one, why were you so upset? Did one of them say something to you?
Todd shrugged, not looking at him.
"Did they?" Stephen badgered gently. Todd managed a half shrug.
"He and Matthew were snarling at each other, Chris got vicious like he does...." Todd trailed off.
"And Matthew bit back," Stephen said shrewdly. Matthew was never one to take criticism quietly and his tongue, once roused, could be vitriolic and moved at three times the speed of Chris's.
"What did you do while all this was happening?"
Todd pushed away from the table and pulled his leg up, tears threatening again. "I tried to make them stop," Todd mumbled against his knee, the tears falling and darkening two spots on the jeans.
Stephen got up and walked around the table, pulling Todd's head against his stomach. "They didn't appreciate the help, did they?"
Todd's hand slipped into Stephen's, holding tight as the tears came harder. Steve waited only a moment before he pulled Todd up, then carefully picked him up and carried him into the living room, settling them both on the couch. He pulled Todd's head against his chest and simply rubbed him, waiting for the emotion to pass.
When he could talk again around a few hiccups, he spoke. "I just tried to get them to separate; I know they don't hate each other. They just manage to get on each other's last nerve and if they had a couple minutes apart they'd kiss and make up. Chris didn't mean it, but he pushed me back down in my chair, and Matthew took offense to that and shoved Chris, before Joe could get there. When Joe DID get there, he asked me to stay, but I knew one, if not both of them, were going to get a serious earful if not more, and I didn't want anything to do with that, so I left."
"I don't blame you," Stephen said quietly. "Did Chris hurt you?"
Todd shook his head, but Stephen still unbuttoned the neck of his shirt, ignoring his half-hearted pushes, and slipped the fabric back over his shoulders. The red marks were clearly visible and one or two would be bruises.
"Pushed or hit?" Stephen said dryly. Todd shrugged, pushing back into his chest.
"Just a shove."
"And that was all? Joe came and broke it up?"
Todd didn't answer for a long time. Then turned his face against Stephen's chest.
"I got upset. Chris said something, that's all. It's stupid."
"What did he say?"
"Nothing, really," Todd tried, not wanting to repeat it.
"That's not going to work," Stephen said gently. "Tell me what was said."
Todd waited a long moment before he sobbed through, "HesaysIcrytoomuchthatI'mababyandlookIprovedhimright."
"Hey. Chris manages to say far too much when he gets going, and none of it is meant. You and I BOTH know that what he said isn't true," Stephen said, brushing hair away from Todd's face.
"Look at me!" Todd said bitterly, angrily wiping away a few tears.
"You're upset because you were involved in an argument. ANYONE is going to be upset in that situation. Tears aren't something to be ashamed of at all; you know that."
"It's NOT that he meant, is it?" Todd snapped, scrubbing at his eyes. "I AM the wimp of the outfit, he meant that and he was right-"
"Stop right there," Stephen held him off, making him look. "Was that what he said to you?"
Todd shrugged a little, looking awkward. "Yes..... not in exactly those words but yes-"
"Then it's rubbish. You have strong emotions, so do he and Matthew or they wouldn't fight like they do," Stephen said firmly. "And you have a different personality set to either of them. For a start, you don't have Chris's temper and you don't blurt out whatever you can think of to hurt someone when you're angry. If that's a fault and failing of yours then I'm all for it."
Todd snorted, something between a sob and a laugh. Stephen pulled him back down against his chest, holding him close.
"I'm not sure what the accusation even is here- is it immaturity he's implying that you're bothered about?"
The phone rang, saving Todd having to answer. Stephen slid Todd to the side and leaned over to pick up the phone.
"S...Steve? Is Todd there?"
"Yes, he is. One moment," Stephen said, hearing Chris sniffle once.
Todd shook his head, indicating clearly he didn't want to talk. Stephen pulled him closer and put the receiver into his hand.
"It's Chris; I think he has something he wants to say to you."
Todd held up both hands, refusing to take the receiver and looked at the floor. Stephen waited a minute, recognising Todd's rare but definitely assertive look of Extreme Obstinacy, then put the phone back to his own ear.
"I'm sorry, Chris, I don't think Todd wants to talk at the moment. I can't blame him; I don't think he had a very nice evening."
Chris sniffled again. "Please? I wanted to apologize for today,"
Stephen looked at Todd again, who shook his head no. "I'm sorry, Chris, but you'll have to call back again."
"Tell him I'm sorry," Chris said as he burst into tears again and hung up the phone.
Stephen shook his head and put the phone down. Joe obviously had his hands full this evening.
"That wasn't very kind," he said mildly to Todd, who glared at him.
"THEY weren't exactly nice to me, why should I listen now when he only called because Joe made him? And I'm not talking to Matthew either."
"Okay, then go up and get ready for bed," Stephen said firmly, cutting into what promised to be a good sized rant. "Go on.
Todd, the wind taken out of his sails, spun on his heel and headed upstairs. He didn't often lose his temper but when he did, there was little hope of him moving until he'd cooled down. Stephen picked up the phone and dialed, waiting until he heard Rolf's voice answer.
"Hey, it's me. Just ringing to say if you or Matthew planned on talking to Todd this evening, Chris just got his marching orders."
"That sounds about right," Rolf said, sighing. "Matthew is upstairs in bed, caught between wanting to be pissed off and knowing he got what he deserved. It'll be tomorrow before he'll call and apologize, which he will. How is Todd?"
"Quite upset. I think he was trying to be peacekeeper and ended up the most beat up of the participants."
"If it makes him feel any better, Joe beat up on them, and rightfully so. I can't believe Joe even let a game come out of a secure area if he wasn't in the room with a fire extinguisher!"
"You'd think he'd learn," Stephen said ruefully. "I'll tell him, thanks, Rolf. Goodnight."
Stephen hung up, locked the doors and headed upstairs. Todd was lying on the bed, chin on his arms, glaring into the darkness.
"This is a truly novel way of having a bath," Stephen said, sitting down beside him. Todd didn't answer. Stephen ran a hand over his back.
"Rolf said to tell you Joe clobbered both Matthew and Chris for the way they treated you, he was very unimpressed."
"Good for him," Todd said scathingly.
"Hey. They got what they deserved, and don't even begin to think that you need to be the one to give it to them," Stephen said firmly. "Arguing with them drops you to their level, and that is one place you don't want to be."
Todd sat up quickly. "It would be more satis-"
"That's enough," Stephen said, cutting across Todd's raising voice. "Get yourself into the bath, right now." Stephen looked hard at Todd, waiting until Todd got moving to look away.
Todd went into the bathroom muttering to himself.
Stephen undressed himself, turned the bed down and waited, watching the lights go past on the blinds as cars passed in the streets below. Todd took his time. When he finally re-emerged, he was damp, sullen and didn't look at Stephen as he lay down. Stephen let him stew and went into the bathroom. Twenty minutes later, Todd was lying face down, still, to all intents and purposes asleep. Stephen laid down beside him, leaving the covers off since it was a hot night, and put an arm over his hips, pulling him close. Todd didn't respond.
"Was Chris upset?" he said eventually.
"He sounded it," Stephen said quietly.
"Good," Todd said insincerely.
Stephen rubbed his shoulders and didn't answer. It took another five minutes before Todd rolled over against him and this time his arms wound around Stephen's neck.
"He'll be really upset now, won't he? He gets really wound up when he's guilty-"
Stephen shrugged, deliberately sounding offhand.
"He probably is worried about it. You know both Chris and Matthew do things without thinking them through. They're both going to feel really bad - without anyone else's help - for treating you that way."
"He deserves it," Todd said, not really meaning it.
"That isn't very nice at all," Stephen replied, still massaging Todd's shoulders.
"I guess not," Todd conceded. "Maybe I'll call them in the morning, before they call me."
Stephen kissed the top of his head. "I think that's a great idea."
Todd snuggled deeper against him, feeling his shoulders relax as they settled to sleep. It took nearly four minutes. Then Todd leaned up on one elbow, peering at his partner.
"Steve...... do you think I could...."
Without opening his eyes, Stephen picked up and handed him the phone.