The Case Of Kings
by Lar

"It is a miserable state of mind to have few things to desire and many things to fear; and yet that commonly is the case of kings." - Francis Bacon

Claire lasts two weeks. It's two weeks longer than Bender expected her to.

There's just too much pressure from her friends, the crowd she runs with as predatory as anything that ever stalked the African plains, looking for one sign of weakness to bring down the latest prey. He can see it in her eyes, that flinch whenever they happen to be in the same hallway and she's dreading him doing the unthinkable. Terrified that he'll make eye contact, smile, say her name, anything to prove that she has at some point acknowledged his existence and broken the code. Only the rich survive, with a few token not-quite-pretty-enough, not-quite-privileged-enough bodies filling in the spaces to make the rest of them look even better.

He doesn't make it easy on her when she tries to break it off, just points out that if all she wanted was to get rid of her cherry, she could have saved herself a lot of stress and said so.

"I got paid," he says with a smirk as he touches the earring he's still wearing, the diamond glinting in the gray light of the afternoon. She's crying when he says it, mascara running under her eyes before she smears it away with the back of her hand.

"You're a pig," she tells him. "I wish I never let you touch me."

He shrugs at that. "You wanted to go slumming, princess." Walks away before she can see the expression in his eyes that he's never been able to conceal for too long. The one that his father always waits to catch and pounce on. Hurt, weakness, all the same thing, and there are predators everywhere.

He stalks around the side of the building, headed for the field and the way home, and when the voice calls out from the bleachers, he hates the way it startles him. Tries to cover it and almost makes it. Almost, but not quite; he can see the satisfaction in Andrew's grin.

"That? That was classy," Andrew says, waving his hand in the general direction of the parking lot where Bender left Claire sniffling and no doubt headed for daddy's Mercedes and a shopping trip to make everything all better.

Bender stares at him, hair in his face and the cold biting through the coat he wears. Andrew looks warm and toasty in his letterman's jacket, looks like he's just gotten out of some ad for the Gap, all perfectly worn-in jeans and white smile. Even his slouched posture looks like a goddamn advertisement for whatever is supposed to be the perfect high school jock image of the moment. John Bender hates him, very clearly hates him for everything he has in that one moment of time. And hates himself for admitting it, even if it gets no further than his own head.

"So is stalking. Very smooth. She's all yours, Sporto." Bender shakes his hair back and smirks. "All broken in."

Andrew shakes his head, hands shoved in his jacket pockets as he walks closer. His smile seems to have slipped a few notches. "She's right, you are a pig, man."

"Did I offend your delicate sensibilities with my harsh language?" Bender reaches for the last cigarette in his pocket and tucks it into the corner of his mouth. Retreats behind the familiar shield of routine - flick of lighter, inhale, exhale, ignore the world and study the cloud of smoke - as Andrew stays right there. He doesn't even wave the smoke away.

"You're so full of shit," Andrew says quietly. He steps closer, further than the acceptable limits of personal space that Bender lets anyone have, does it purposefully and leans in so his mouth is right by Bender's ear. Andrew can feel the tension and he knows how badly Bender wants to step off. But he won't do it, because that's a retreat and Andrew's already one-up on points here. He already got the lead when he scared the crap out of Bender, caught him while he was lost in that angry haze he always walks around in. "You never wanted her."

Bender moves then, pushing Andrew's shoulder. "What the fuck would you know about it?" he asks, taking a heavy drag on the cigarette. "Two weeks ago you couldn't decide which hand to pull your dick with, now you're telling me what I want and don't want?" He shakes his head, takes another hard drag and then flicks it at Andrew. The butt tumbles past his shoulder with a little rain of sparks, hits the frozen ground and glows briefly before it gives in to the wet ground and dies out. There's a wisp of smoke that the shifting wind blows towards them both, too faint to last more than a few seconds and by then both boys are looking away.

Andrew purses his lips for a second, the first sign that he's not all that sure of himself after all. Nervous habit he hasn't been able to get rid of, and Bender watches his mouth. Sees pink lips poised as if to press a kiss and he licks his own, not thinking about soft girl skin for the moment, or perfume, or cashmere sweaters crushed and wrinkled on the seat of a car that cost more than his parent's shack of a house.

Bender watches Andrew's mouth and thinks about the cracked vinyl that covers the front seat of the truck he drives, the scent of sweat and cheap cologne, the feel of hard muscle and denim under calloused fingers. The gym bag on the floor spilling out stained shorts, t-shirt, jockstrap. Books in a heap underneath the clothes, the white edges of papers glowing in the dim light from the dashboard where they stick out of whatever random page they've been shoved in.

Andrew tastes like beer and burgers. Smells like he's run laps before he got into the truck without showering. Bender knows all this and can't bring himself to wish he didn't. He wants to walk away but he can see the truck in the parking lot. He can picture the cracks in the seat, knows there's a tape of Mr. Mister shoved in the tape deck. He licks his lip again and watches Andrew's face, the grin gone and replaced with an expression that almost makes Bender feel guilty for putting it there. It's more emotion than he felt when he made Claire cry, a distinction he's not entirely comfortable with. He guess that makes him a shit after all, just like his father says.

He runs his hand through his hair restlessly. "Well? You're the expert, what do I want?" he asks, his voice less caustic now, and he leans forward close enough to smell the leather of Andrew's jacket. "What do I want, huh?"

Andrew raises his arm, leaving his hands in the pocket of his jacket, then lets it drop again. "Ride home?" he asks, gesturing to the truck and then pulling out the keys, dangling them in front of Bender's face. There's a Shermer High School Class of '87 tag hanging from the ring.

"Not going home," Bender says. "And if I was, I wouldn't be looking to get there any faster."

Andrew nods, looking down at his sneakers. The wind blows through again and Bender closes his coat over the flannel shirt he's wearing, hunching his shoulders as Andrew twirls the keys on his finger. Without looking up, Andrew asks, "Just a ride then?"

Bender looks at the blonde hair, cut too short and spiking up at the cowlick on the crown of Andrew's head. There's a vulnerability there in the bare neck he can see above the collar of the jacket and when Andrew looks up again, there's the same thing in his eyes.

"Yeah alright. Just a ride." He hunches his shoulders again, face pressed down in the scant warmth of the coat, breathing in his own recycled air and following Andrew to the truck.

Just a ride, just some heat, just what he needs right now. Might not be what he deserves, but the allure of being wanted is too strong and Bender's never been on the receiving end of it often enough for the glamour to wear thin.


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