hardparade: (narnia cast)
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[Part 1. ¦ Part 2. ¦ Part 3. ¦ Part 4. ¦ Part 5. ¦ Part 6. ¦ Part 7a & Part 7b. ¦ Part 8a & Part 8b. ¦ TBC.]


As soon as Michael leaves he's replaced by Georgie, hovering in the doorway wearing one of Ben's big woolly cardigans over her costume, her arms crossed and her face very pale. Will decisively walks towards her, figuring that the less time Skandar has to stay lying down the side of the bed, the better. He tries to put his hand on her shoulder and guide her out of the trailer but she shrugs him off, stomping back down the steps and outside. Will looks at Anna desperately but she looks as lost as he feels, and they follow Georgie out into the cool air with absolutely no idea how to handle this at all.

Will looks around for Ben and Will P., but, like Michael, they seem to have vanished. Perhaps they just went to change out of their costumes, but Will suspects they've also decided it would be better to give the three of them some space. They head round to a slightly more private bit of the car park—or at least, somewhere more comfortable to talk, where they're not closed in on every side by trailers.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Georgie snaps as soon as they're a bit more out of earshot of the few cast and crew in the area. "How long has this been going on?"

"I—it's complicated," says Anna evasively, shooting Will a look. He knows she's wishing they'd had a chance to at least come up with some kind of cover story between the two of them, or even that the three of them had prepared somehow for this eventuality—decided how they'd play it—even though realistically, they never would have seen this coming. Not this, exactly, anyway.

"How? Explain," Georgie demands hotly.

"It's difficult to explain, George," Anna says gently—when Georgie is angry, arguing with her only ramps things up, it's better to be as soft with her as possible, and Anna is the best at that so Will hangs back. "Things have just sort of been happening recently and we didn't really know how to...define it."

She's choosing her words carefully so as not to outright lie, Will can tell. So far what she's said is absolutely true, pertaining to their situation—it's just not quite the situation Georgie thinks it is.

Georgie doesn't even really seem to be listening. She's fidgety, stamping her feet. Will is vaguely aware that the car park isn't as empty as it was earlier; that the scene must have completely finished shooting now because people are beginning to flit around in the distance. He can hear doors opening and shutting, the creaking of metal, indistinct chatter, and it makes him nervous. He didn't want to have this conversation in the trailer for obvious reasons, but having it out in the open doesn't seem like such a great idea either.

Georgie seems oblivious. "Does Skandar know?" she asks sharply.

"Yes," says Will, deciding it's time to speak up at the exact same moment that Anna says, "No."

She gives him a pained look. Georgie looks frustrated. "It's complicated," says Anna again.

"Oh, but you were shagging in his bed?" Georgie retorts, incredulous, and Will winces, both at the words and the volume of her voice.

"We weren't shagging," says Anna, and Will adds, "and don't use that word."

Georgie rolls her eyes, pulling Ben's cardi tighter around her and making as if she's going to storm off from them.

"Georgie wait," Will says desperately. He wants to tell her the truth, wants to explain why they're being so vague, wants her to understand that they didn't do any of this to hurt her and she hasn't been left out for malicious reasons. But he can't. He can't, and in some ways he still doesn't want to, still doesn't feel ready, and anyway—would it even do any good? It would just confuse her more, perhaps make her feel even more left out, though the thought is odd.

Georgie turns on her heel, huffing out a breath. "It's not that I care that you're—a thing, or whatever," she says, though Will can tell that she does, if only because she's not used to the idea yet, "I just don't get why you wouldn't tell me. Why wouldn't you tell me? When were you gonna tell me?"

Once again Will and Anna flounder, lost for words.

"I guess just—when we felt ready," Will attempts, but he knows none of this is working.

"But you told other people?"

Their awkward silence—as they both think of Skandar first, and then, uncomfortably, Tilda—tells Georgie all she needs to know.

"I'm one of your best friends, aren't I?" Georgie says, hurt, a little hysterical, tears springing to her eyes. "Why would you not tell me?"

She keeps repeating it and they don't have a good enough answer and they're making a scene, now, it's obvious—Will wouldn't be surprised to learn that there are people actively eavesdropping from behind the trailers, curious as to what could have caused such a falling out between such famously close cast members.

Suddenly he spots Ben approaching from a little way off, behind Georgie. Georgie turns, noticing that Will's looking behind her, and he sees that she wipes her eyes with the too-long sleeves of Ben's cardigan surreptitiously as she does.

"I heard raised voices," Ben says, apologetically, as he gets closer. "Is everything all right?"

"Not really," Will admits.

"You didn't know, Ben, did you?" Georgie asks, her voice breaking as she struggles to hold back more tears.

"No, I told you," Ben says softly, his tone reassuring as he pulls her close and she reluctantly allows him to cuddle her to his side. "Look, this is obviously kind of a complicated situation and we should probably all have a proper chat about it later but I just thought you should know that—" he pauses, sort of grimacing, and Will wonders what exactly could make this situation worse, and then Ben continues, "apparently gossip spreads really fast on this set."

"What?" Anna shoots back, all the colour seeming to drain from her face in an instant.

"I don't know," says Ben, "I didn't—none of us have said anything obviously but people are kind of whispering, and Will was just getting out of his costume and Isis asked him something, something about whether or not the rumours were true—"

"Isis?" Anna interrupts, alarmed. Random extras they don't know are one thing, but crew members they've worked with since they were kids are quite another.

"I don't think anyone's clear on the exact circumstances," says Ben hurriedly, "but—people talk, you know, and it's big news. Uh, speaking of which—congratulations, and everything!" His tone is awkward, and Will can tell from the look on his face that he doesn't quite believe it, despite having walked in on pretty irrefutable evidence.

"Thanks," says Anna tightly. "Listen, Ben, do you think we can try hold back on—well, everybody knowing? We weren't really prepared to...go public, just yet."

"Probably should've been a bit more discerning about your make-out spots, then," Ben says, and even though he's teasing it makes Will angry, and Georgie makes a face, and all of this is wrong—so wrong.

Anna is getting more agitated by the second. "It's just—of course we were going to tell you lot pretty soon anyway," she says, still trying to placate Georgie, "but there's that and there's the whole cast and crew of this movie..."

"I don't think it's the whole cast and crew," Ben says, but at that moment Will spots Andrew and Mark heading over and his stomach drops at the looks on their faces—cautiously congratulatory, Andrew's expression a confused mixture of joy and apprehension.

"Just heard the news!" he calls as they approach. His voice is weird, there's something fake in it, like he's putting on a bit of a front. Like he doesn't know quite how to handle this. Join the club, Will thinks bitterly.

"Thought it was just silly rumours 'til I mentioned it to Michael," Mark adds, chuckling slightly, shaking his head. "Bit of an awkward way to announce your relationship but apparently pretty effective—everybody's talking about it!"

He claps Will on the back, which is not something he has ever done before in all the time Will has known him. He senses everybody has been thrown slightly off-kilter by the news; no one has their reactions ready.

"Really though, it's wonderful," Mark goes on, trying to fill the awkward silence, "you two are—you know, you're a great match, I always thought so. Didn't you think so, Andrew?"

Andrew is speechless, shaking his head in disbelief. "I'm just a bit taken aback, honestly!" he says apologetically. "I have to say, I didn't see it coming, but I guess it didn't take long to wrap my head around it—you always were so close—I guess I just assumed you saw each other as siblings, but—"

Will almost says "We do," because in a weird way it's true, but then they're interrupted by the sight of Isis trotting over, her hair flowing behind her, a wild grin on her face.

"Congratulations!" she calls, enveloping Anna in a tight hug the instant she reaches them, and then Will too, patting him on the back, and it's all so surreal, Will feels like he's dreaming. He wants to say wait, stop, no, put this on hold and figure things out, but it's all rapidly spinning out of control. "I just had to come and congratulate the happy couple! I can't believe it, what lovely news, the two of you were always so sweet when you were kids, you got on so well—how long have you been together?"

Will still blanches at the question; clearly he's not getting used to this situation any time soon. He thinks of Skandar still shut in his trailer and wonders if he's overheard anything, wonders what he's doing, what he's thinking.

"Oh, not that long!" Anna's saying, managing to laugh though she still looks stunned and pale, and Will is thankful she's such a good actress because now that she's gathered her senses she's playing this almost perfectly. She's not a good liar, but at least in this case she's not technically lying, so it seems to work. "We were surprised too. And we definitely didn't mean it to come out quite like this..." she laughs again, everybody laughs (except Georgie), awkward but amiable, we're-all-in-this-together. Will feels so ill.

"Hey, where's Skandar?" asks Andrew suddenly, the question Will didn't know he'd been dreading.

"Yeah, I haven't seen him in a while," says Ben, frowning. Suspicious, Will thinks with a jolt. "He knows about the two of you, right?"

"If he's the last to know, you're going to be in for some serious trouble," Andrew jokes, and there's laughter again, and Anna's explaining that he does know, adding tactfully—for Georgie's benefit—that he only found out earlier today, and by accident.

"Very generous of him to let you use his trailer," Ben says in an undertone, with a wink, and Will genuinely feels like he might throw up.

"Anyway, once somebody tracks him down I think it's time to go out for dinner, don't you?" Andrew's saying. "Let's make it a celebration!"

"Oh, I don't know," says Anna anxiously, "I don't want everybody making a fuss—"

But everybody is speaking over each other, Isis recommending a great pizza place that's not far from set, Mark offering to go find Skandar, and Will listens to it all like he's got his ear against a wall, everything echoey and distorted.

"Are you okay?" Georgie's saying, then, suddenly at Will's side, forgetting all of her anger and hurt for just a moment. "You look really green."

But Will doesn't get a chance to respond because there, suddenly, in the distance, is Skandar—sloping towards them with his hands in his pockets, everyone presumably too distracted congratulating "the happy couple" to have noticed him slipping out of his trailer. Will feels even more sick at the sight of him.

"Skandar!" Ben cries, spotting him too. "We were just wondering where you were."

Skandar doesn't say anything right away, gives an awkward, stiff sort of wave to the lot of them and kicks at a stray pebble on the ground as he gets closer. "Looks like there's a bit of a party going on out here," he says, offering a weird smile that's not his own, looking at everybody but Will and Anna.

"Yes, well, apparently congratulations are in order!" Andrew says, still looking rather bewildered by the whole thing but taking it in his stride. "Who would have thought, eh?"

"I thought," says Isis cheekily, nudging Anna in a friendly, confidential sort of gesture that might be sweet and funny in different circumstances. "I always thought you'd make a good couple. Wanted to play matchmaker a few times but I had to hold myself back."

Skandar is still making that face—this oddly serene smile, blank. Will desperately wants to explain that they had no part in all of this. As soon as they get a chance, they'll tell him, and they'll figure out a way to fix this. Somehow.

But then Isis's talking about the pizza place again and Mark's saying he knows somewhere a bit more fancy and isn't that what the situation calls for? And they're talking about gathering up some others, making an evening of it, and Anna is going even more white than she is normally, and Skandar is still flashing that wan smile around at everybody but his expression behind it is somehow totally dead.

"You know," he says, speaking up over everybody, "I'm actually not feeling that great. Bit ill, really. Stomach upset, probably not the best idea for me to go out and eat tonight, I think I'd better stay back."

Everyone offers noises of sympathy and disappointment, and Anna jumps at the chance—"Maybe we should do it another time, then, when everyone can be there?" she suggests graciously, in a small voice. "I'm not sure I'm up to some big party anyway..."

But nobody seems to take her very seriously; it's like they think she's just being modest. Andrew chuckles, reaching over to stroke her shoulder. "It's okay Anna, we won't embarrass you."

"Come on, Georgie, let's get you out of your costume," says Isis, hurrying Georgie off back towards the costume tent.

"Where did Poulter go?" Mark's asking.

Everything is just motion and noise again to Will as they try and gather together their little group, talking about restaurants and what time it is and how many cars they need and someone says "the happy couple" again and Will wants to hit something, and by the time everything finally seems to be decided, Skandar is nowhere in sight.

***

The evening is awkward. So awkward. Will feels like he's been plunged into some kind of nightmare where everything is going wrong and he's powerless to stop it, and no one is coming to save him. He keeps replaying the scene from earlier in his mind, wishing they'd thought to lock the door, wishing they'd been faster at getting dressed, wishing they hadn't been so stupid and impatient as to fool around in the trailer in the first place. This situation would have been awful in any circumstances, but it adds an extra level of humiliation that that's how they were found out—that everyone thinks they're so mad for each other they can't even control themselves, that they had to sneak into someone else's trailer after mere hours of being on set. It's adding to this wink-wink-nudge-nudge attitude that everyone in the know seems to have, and it's driving Will crazy.

Anna is, thankfully, handling it a little better than he is, but she's white as a sheet until she gets a decent amount of wine in her, and she keeps shooting him looks of despair whenever there's nobody looking at them (which isn't often). Everybody keeps asking them things, things they're really not equipped to answer. It's easy enough to be evasive about how it started, no one seems to be prying into the details of that so much, but there are other questions that they just don't know how to handle at all—questions about first dates and romantic gestures and anniversaries. They literally just have to make things up, and it makes Will realise just how unconventional the reality of the situation is. They've never even been on a date—sure, they've been to movies and restaurants together hundreds of times but it was always as friends, and Will's never bought Anna flowers or jewellery, never taken her on holiday, never done any of the typical things everybody seems to expect.

It's not that they're such a nosy group of people usually, but Will can tell this has sort of thrown everybody for a loop (save for a few perceptive people who keep exchanging knowing glances with each other, which is almost more annoying than all the questions). These are people who have seen the two of them grow up together, and in some ways, Will thinks, that means they should have seen it coming, and they shouldn't feel the need to demand all the details, shouldn't be flailing around like a bunch of headless chickens like this is the craziest news of the century. But at the same time he understands that they're just trying to make sense of it—trying to wrap their heads around the notion of little teenagers William and Anna, bickering like siblings for years and then growing up and falling in love. And above all, of course, they want to appear supportive, want to make sure Will and Anna know that they're happy for them.

But even so, it's agonising. Neither of them are good liars, especially under pressure, but they can't very well admit that all this time they've basically just been friends-with-benefits, that their dates have consisted of a lot of sex and not much else, not to mention that there's a whole other person involved, a conspicuously absent person that Will can't stop thinking about.

Between the two of them they manage to concoct some fairly believable (and vague) anecdotes, but Georgie and Ben are the spanner in the works, clearly picking up on little inaccuracies in their shaky stories—Georgie nagging Anna about which necklace Will bought her, was it really the one with the little moon-shaped pendant because she thought Anna said that was a gift from her Grandparents? (Georgie's Mum keeps quietly telling her not to ask so many questions, which only makes it more awkward.) Will can tell that Ben and Georgie just aren't quite buying it, but of course can't figure out what's really going on either. Georgie's just confused, like she thinks they're lying to her, like it's all part of a weird prank gone horribly wrong. And Ben keeps shooting Will these concerned, suspicious little looks, and Will knows what he's thinking: that it's all a farce, that Will is involved with Anna purely because he's in denial of his sexuality and that the relationship is secretly making him miserable. He doesn't blame Ben for coming to that conclusion, because to anyone paying attention, it's clear that neither of them are enjoying the celebrations as much as they ought to be.

Will can barely face his food and Anna is all tense and on edge—at one point Shane Rangi, on his way back from the bathroom, ruffles her hair affectionately in a big-brotherly type gesture and she practically leaps a foot into the air. Andrew makes a toast to them, sincere and lovely, standing at the head of the table and saying how touched he is by the fact that the two of them have found love with each other, that he feels, in a way, that he brought them together. Will's heart breaks because it's the most touching thing and it would be perfect, just perfect—if only Skandar were here, if only he were included in the kind words, if only it were him, too, that Andrew was getting a little misty-eyed over as he raised his glass.

Isis, a little drunk, is reminiscing about young love, and it leads—embarrassingly—to all of the adults talking about their first serious relationships, what it was like when they found their soulmates. It's crazy, Will thinks, how everybody has just jumped to the conclusion that he and Anna are made for each other, that they're madly in love—he's almost expecting someone to start asking them about marriage and kids and starts mentally preparing for it, but thankfully it doesn't come up. Even so, he squirms in his seat as everybody trades their stories about first dates and romance and "wooing" (Georgie's Mum's word as she tells the story of how she met Georgie's Dad, Georgie elbowing her in embarrassment and hissing "Mum, oh my gosh."). At one point Will manages to escape to the bathroom and texts Skandar frantically: this is actual bloody torture I don't know how this happened I'm so sorry but he doesn't get a response.

A few times people mention Skandar, saying it's such a shame he couldn't be here, and Will isn't sure if he's imagining it but he feels like the atmosphere gets awkward at the mention of his name—as if everybody can sense that there's some kind of tension involved without being able to put a finger on it. Ben and Georgie, in particular, seem to find it very odd that he's suddenly claiming illness when he seemed perfectly fine throughout his scenes today.

"Does he find it weird, too?" Georgie asks quietly at one point, when everybody else is engaged in conversation, distracted. She seems to be warming up to them again, gradually beginning to accept that—no matter how odd it might be—this is something that is happening, and she's going to have to learn to deal with it.

"What?" Will asks, leaning across Anna to speak to her.

"Skandar," Georgie says. "Is he weirded out that the two of you are together? Is that why he's not here?"

Will doesn't even know how to answer that.

"Yeah, he's just finding it a bit hard to adjust," says Anna, wrinkling her nose. She squeezes Georgie's shoulder. "It makes sense that you two would have the hardest time with it, you know us the best."

Georgie seems satisfied with that answer, though Anna gives Will a pained look as soon as Georgie turns away again. "God, I hate this," she says through gritted teeth, and Will reaches for his wine and hisses back, "Tell me about it."

At one point a rather horrifying new thought occurs to him, and even though he's pretty sure it goes without saying, he has to remind everybody that this is still quite new to them and they're definitely not ready to go to the media with it yet. He feels almost guilty, because these people are close friends and colleagues and he doesn't want to make it sound like he thinks they'd go behind his back like that, but—things are bad enough as they are, the thought of having to give some sort of interview about it all makes him want to throw up right there and then. The gossip is surely spreading thick and fast around set, and nobody can control that, but he at least wants reassurance that no one at this table is going to go around confirming anything. And thankfully, he gets that reassurance. Anna squeezes his hand under the table in a silent thank you, the look on her face telling him that's something that hadn't even occurred to her.

Eventually, the conversation topic drifts away from them, and everybody starts talking about the movie, about the busy day ahead of them tomorrow, and thankfully it starts to seem like things are winding down. Ben mentions that they've got another early start so he's going to sleep in his trailer tonight, but frustratingly nobody actually makes a move to get up and leave.

Finally, Will can't stand it anymore, and speaks up. "You know, we're pretty tired," he says loudly, reaching for his jacket, "still jetlagged, I think we'd better get back to the apartments, get a good night's sleep..."

Mark says something embarrassing about letting the two of them have each other to themselves, now, and everybody agrees that they should go, that it's okay, they'll see them tomorrow. "It was a lovely night," Anna says graciously, lying through her teeth, "really, thank you so much, everyone."

As soon as they're out of the restaurant, trying to get a taxi, she says to Will, "We're not going back to the apartments, right?"

"No way," Will says, shaking his head. "We're going to talk to Skandar. Right?"

"Definitely."

***

Skandar won't answer the door, and their fists are beginning to hurt from knocking on the metal. There's a cool breeze in the night air and dark clouds are rolling in, and Anna's shivering a little in her short-sleeved dress when finally the door opens and Skandar's standing there, tired and miserable-looking, in his old boxers and a baggy t-shirt. His eyes are a bit red around the rims like he might've been crying, his face slightly puffy. Will feels terrible at the sight of him. They've had an awful evening too, of course, but at least they were ostensibly out celebrating while he's been here shut in his trailer with only his thoughts for company.

"What do you want?" he says gruffly, standing in the doorway, not even offering to let them in.

"Skan, we're so sorry," says Anna immediately, "God, that was awful—I don't even know how it happened, one minute everything was fine and the next—"

"Everyone was celebrating the perfect and beautiful union of William and Anna," Skandar interrupts flatly, his brows drawn together, his expression dark.

"Yes, how ridiculous it was, honestly," Anna goes on, and Will detects some anxiety in her tone as she rambles on about the night. "Everybody fussing over us, asking us all these questions that we clearly couldn't answer—Andrew made a toast like we'd just gotten married or something, Mark insisted on paying for our meals—it was so embarrassing, just terrible. I can't think how we're going to cope with the rest of the visit now, going along with all this, it's such a mess."

"Going along with it?" Skandar repeats sharply.

"Yes, well," says Anna, taken aback. "I mean, we have to...don't we?"

Skandar says nothing, but the hurt and anger on his face is obvious, and Will can't help but feel pissed off—he feels like they're being blamed, which isn't fair, because he doesn't see what they could have done differently. They were dragged off to this stupid dinner before they even had a chance to think about alternatives, and anyway, it's not like any of the alternatives were actually plausible options, surely? A few cold droplets spatter against his face and he looks around to see that rain is beginning to fall. Thunder rumbles in the distance, threatening.

"Let's go inside," says Anna quietly, "it's starting to rain, and anyway we don't want to cause another scene."

The car park is deserted, everyone either already asleep or still out having dinner, but Skandar relents and steps aside for them to come in, shutting the door behind them. "So what were you thinking we could do?" Anna asks then, her arms folded, her face tense and serious. "Do you want us to go back on it? To say we're not together?"

"That would be nice, yeah," Skandar scowls.

"Oh, brilliant plan," says Will, voice heavy with sarcasm, "and how are we supposed to explain the fact that a bunch of people saw us half-naked in bed together, exactly? How are we supposed to explain the fact that we just lied to everyone for hours about cheesy dates and one-month anniversary gifts and stupid shit like that?" He runs his hand back through his hair, agitated, feeling even worse when Skandar's expression abruptly changes into something utterly heartbreaking.

"What?"

"They kept asking us all this stuff! We didn't know what to do, Skan, we just had to bullshit our way through it," Will says helplessly. "What else were we supposed to do? Did you want us to tell the truth?"

"Will, I don't—I don't know if we're ready for that," Anna cuts in, anxiously.

"I'm not saying we are," Will retorts, "but at this point, it's either that or keep lying, isn't it?"

"Well at least say—I don't know," Skandar stammers, "at least say you were a couple and now you've broken up, or something, because this isn't fair, okay?"

"Oh, and that won't look suspicious," sneers Will, "going public with our relationship and then calling it off the very next day?"

"What relationship?" Skandar snaps back, suddenly angry once again. "Stop fucking saying that, you're not in a relationship. We are. We all are."

"Oh, you know what I mean," Will sighs, exasperated, but it occurs to him then that that's the first time any one of them has called it that: a relationship. It seems big, to say that out loud. To acknowledge that it's not just sex, even if the details are still muddy and unclear.

"Stop it, both of you," says Anna, her voice high and upset. "Please let's not fight. I'm so tired and today's been so hard—"

"Oh yeah, I'm sure," Skandar says viciously, "half the cast and crew buying you dinner and champagne, congratulating you on your beautiful love, giving toasts in honour of you. Sounds awful."

Will feels a surge of anger rise up in him; why isn't Skandar getting this? He looks at Anna and sees that she's welling up. "Skandar, please try and understand," she says desperately. "It's not like we meant for this to happen. I just don't know how you expect us to fix it."

"Say you're not together!" Skandar snaps, exasperated, as if it's some easy solution that they're stubbornly rejecting for no reason.

"Don't you see why we can't do that? What would everybody think?" Will is practically shouting and he hopes no one in the nearby trailers can hear them.

"I don't care!" Skandar shouts back. He seems almost hysterical, his voice catching as he tries to hold back tears. "I don't care, just—I can't stand this, everybody having the wrong idea, thinking it's just the two of you." He smacks his fist down on the countertop, eyes blazing. "You were obviously convincing enough at playing the loved-up couple, why not go all out and act out some big public break-up? Get everybody gossiping about you again?"

"It's not like this is easy for us," says Anna brokenly. "It's not easy to pretend like you're not a part of this. A part of us." A tear slides down her cheek and she wipes it away, blinking furiously.

"It seems like you went along with it pretty happily," Skandar glowers.

"Are you blind?!" Will cries incredulously. "We clearly didn't!"

Skandar turns away for a moment, taking a deep breath. "Just go, all right? I'm really fucking tired and I don't want to talk about this anymore."

"Skandar—" Anna attempts.

"Whatever," Will bites back, reaching for the door. "You're obviously refusing to see sense."

He stomps out of the trailer, too angry and upset to bother holding it for Anna behind him, not even caring if she follows him out or continues to try and reason—pointlessly, in his opinion—with Skandar. The rain is really coming down now, battering against the trailers and splashing hard onto the tarmac, turning it dark and slick with oily rainbow puddles underfoot. The sun has already set, making everything look gloomy and miserable. Appropriate, really, Will thinks bitterly as he stamps off, squeezing between wet trailers, water splashing up and soaking the bottoms of his jeans. He hears the trailer door slam a moment later and is aware of Anna trotting after him, the heels of her sandals smacking against the wet ground.

"William," she calls, sharply enough to make him stop and turn around to look at her. She stands a few feet away, arms folded, her face pale and drawn and her hair plastered to her forehead with rain. Water drips from the hem of her dress, and the fabric clings to her skin. He can see the shape of her thighs through the translucent cotton.

"What?" he says flatly.

She looks at him for a long moment without speaking. He watches the path of rain droplets along her skin. Then, finally, quietly, she says, "Stop it. Think about how he feels."

Will's face crumples into a frown. "Does that matter more?" he asks. "Does that matter more than how I feel?"

She sighs, looks away from him and smoothes her wet hair from her forehead before turning back, hands on her hips. "No," she says, "just—look, he's been away from us a long time now. I don't care if you think he doesn't get jealous but for us to be alone together all this time and then show up and go along with the idea that we're a couple—" Will starts to open his mouth, but she speaks over him, "—even though it wasn't our idea, that must be painful. Can't you see that?"

"Well, he should know," Will says crossly. "He should know that we're not doing it on purpose. We're hardly shoving it in everybody's faces, are we? It's just their assumptions, it doesn't mean anything."

Anna makes a frustrated noise. "How can you not get this? He's wanted you longer than I wanted you, he's probably been dreading that we'd end up together for most of his life."

"But we haven't," Will says, helplessly. "Nothing's changed, it's still the three of us."

"Yes, but not everyone knows that, William," Anna says patiently. "To him, we may as well be a couple, because that's what everyone thinks, and that's how they're treating it."

Will shakes his head. "I just don't see why he's blaming us for it," he mutters. He kicks at a stray piece of gravel on the ground, sends it skittering along wet tarmac. "I don't see what he expects us to do about it, I don't get what the solution is."

"Well, neither do I, but—" Anna breaks off, and Will looks up to see her sort of deflate, giving up under all the pressure and chaos of the evening, her body going limp as she holds her hands over her face, shoulders shuddering.

"Hey, come here," Will says gently, going soft, and when she doesn't move he goes to her, wraps his arms around her. It's not that cold, despite all the rain, the summer air humid around them, but she's shivering all the same. He shrugs out of his jacket, helping her into it as she sobs in a choked sort of way, fighting to hold back the tears. "Let's try get out of the rain," he suggests, guiding her off the way he was walking before, but there doesn't seem to be anywhere to go.

They reach a wall, the side of a building, and it's silly but Will finds himself thinking that normally he would know where they were. He knew all their old filming locations like the back of his hand, knew the best places to shelter from storms, the most private spots for when he needed some alone time, the areas with the best phone reception for ringing his Mum. But as he looks around this bleak, rainy car park he realises he doesn't even remember how to get back to the main road where their taxi dropped them off earlier today. It makes him feel even more lost, and he stops abruptly, still trying to hold Anna close like she's his anchor. She's the only one who can possibly understand just how adrift he feels right now.

But Anna is pushing him away suddenly, frustrated. "Why did you yell at him like that? You know that never solves anything," she snaps. "If we'd just been able to try and calmly explain—"

"It was pretty obvious there was no reasoning with him, Anna," Will says dryly. "If he's got it in his head that—I don't know, that we're just gonna drop him and swan off together, I doubt there's anything we could've said to change his mind."

"Oh, so you're just giving up? That's it? I don't believe this," she says hotly. Her eyes are still brimming with tears, her dress soaked, Will's jacket loose on her, cuffs pulled down over her hands. Will's still angry—at everything: Skandar and her, though he knows it's unreasonable—but it breaks his heart to see her like this and he tries to pull her close again, their clothes cold and sticking together as she reluctantly allows herself to be held.

"It's okay," he murmurs into her wet hair, and she hides her face against his chest.

"No it's fucking not," she spits out, voice muffled.

"I know," Will says, heaving a long sigh. "I know."

Even though the whole parking lot looks totally deserted, he can't help feeling like they might be being watched—a side-effect of spending an entire evening being scrutinised, he supposes. He wonders if the others have left the restaurant by now, gone to their trailers and apartments for the night, or if they're still out drinking and laughing and talking about him and Anna and their newfound love. The thought makes him feel ill again.

"I'm just so tired," Anna sobs out, voice weak, "today's been such a nightmare—it was supposed to be so great, seeing each other again, and now everything's such a mess—and I missed him, I missed him so much, I can't stand having him mad at us."

"I know," Will says again, unable to come up with any other words. This is worse, so much worse than being away from him back home. He thinks of the three of them in the trailer earlier—only a few hours ago, really, though it feels like days, jetlag confusing his sense of time just as much as the evening's chaos has—the pure joy on Skandar's face, how happy he was to be with them again, the way they were all so giggly in each other's presence, stupid with it.

Will feels himself starting to cry too, his sinuses stinging with oncoming tears. The storm is rolling in closer; the occasional rumble of thunder getting louder. He's soaked to the skin and exhausted and he can barely even think anymore, too tired of it. Anna shifts away from him slightly, pulling back just a fraction, and Will goes to snuggle her into him again, needing her close, but somewhere along the way their lips meet—wet, salty with tears as they kiss, hungry and needy, clutching at each other as the rain hammers down around them. Will backs her against the wall without thinking, just needing this, needing her mouth and her body soft and sure against him.

"Will, I'm so—" Anna says tearfully against his cheek, her voice hitching high as she slips her hands under his t-shirt, the chill of them a shock against the warm skin of his hips.

"I know," he says, though he doesn't know what she was about to say. They're both so everything, it's all too much. The time away from Skandar was enough of a trial and now they're here, knowing that it's just made everything worse is too horrible to even cope with.

He kisses her again because it's the only thing that seems to be making him feel even remotely better, and she sighs, melts into it, her hips bucking forward into his like she's trying to get even closer. He feels something stir inside of him and he's too tired, worn too thin to try and resist this time. "Anna," he says quietly, his voice quivering. The thunder is much louder now, the rain not letting up. In the distance, he can just about see Skandar's trailer, see that the light has gone out. None of them have their lights on anymore, he realises; they're just ghostly looming shapes around them, dim and shadowy.

They both start tearing at each other's clothes so fast it's hard to tell who's first; whether it's Anna with her hand reaching agitatedly down to unzip Will's fly or Will tugging at the buttons on her dress with impatient fingers. He gets the top few undone and then gives up, stooping to bury his face in her chest, her skin wet with rainwater, glistening, the familiar cocoa smell of her skin so comforting that his knees almost go weak. She's reaching inside his jeans, fumbling for his cock, letting out a small sound when she finally manages to shove his boxers down and get her hand around it.

Will straightens up, reaching under her dress, up and then into her knickers, the heat of her electrifying. They rock against each other clumsily, stroking insistently, Will getting hard fast from her touch, his cock filling up in her hand, and they waste no time—awkward, stumbling and fumbling, Will pushing his jeans and boxers down and then hoisting her up into his arms and pressing her against the cool brick wall. He's strong enough to hold her, barely even aware of the effort it takes, distracted by his desperation to be inside of her. She's just as eager, reaching down to hike up her dress, yank her knickers to one side, exposing herself to the night air, her cunt slick and pink. Will is so eager his hips thrust forward instantly, his cock sliding along her, and just that—skin on skin, hot and clinging—makes him almost lose his grip on her, falter for a second.

Anna makes an impatient, frustrated noise, reaching down to grasp his cock and guide it inside of her, slower than he wants, holding her breath, easing it in, and Will realises he's holding his breath too, the tight heat of her almost intoxicating after so long. She lets go, flings her arms over his shoulders, pushing her hips forward to take him all the way in, and they groan together, low. He feels her pulsing around him and looks at her, the hair around her temples frizzy, her cheeks pink, her mouth open, her eyes still glossy with tears.

There's a sudden flash of lightning that almost makes Will jump—the whole lot is lit up for a split-second, bright white and eerie, and Anna barely seems to notice, murmuring his name in an urgent sort of way and wrapping her arms around his neck.

"Will—Will, move, please—" she begs, and he does, clutching her arse tight, wet fabric caught under his fingers, and she rolls her head back, almost knocking it against the wall, the rain still beating down on them. She's so hot inside, tight and perfect, and he fucks her mindlessly, the motion of his hips almost automatic. They grasp onto each other, clutching and clawing, movements jerky and fitful. The fabric of Anna's bunched-aside knickers is rubbing harsh against Will's cock on one side with each thrust but he barely notices, only thinking about how wonderful it feels to do this again, how good she feels, the relief in it, even though he's struggling to keep her up and the brick must be rubbing her back raw and though the place seems deserted, they're still fucking out in the open for anyone to see.

Anna bites her lip as Will's cock drives into her, in deep, long thrusts—it's the first time they've fucked without a condom, Will realises distantly, wonders if that's part of why it feels so amazing or if it's just because it's been so long and they're both so het up, so overstimulated from everything the evening has put them through. Will tries to put thoughts of that out of his mind—pushing mental images of hurt, angry Skandar away as he holds Anna tight and plunges deep into her, her cold hands grappling at his shoulder. He feels her wet hair sticking to his face, her thighs clamped tight around his hips, her hot breath on his throat, and best of all her slick cunt so tight around him, sending him hurtling towards orgasm before he's ready for it to all be over.

He buries himself deep inside her as he comes, gasping brokenly against her neck and then breathing her in like he's been starved of air, mouthing at her damp skin and feeling dizzy. His muscles seize up and when it's over, when he's coming back to earth, they ache and cramp and he lets her down unsteadily; she stumbles on shaky feet and there's a wild look in her eyes and he realises she hasn't come, realises just how badly she needs it. Immediately he reaches between her legs with a sore hand and strokes at her furiously, wet thumb coaxing her clit until she's whimpering and digging her nails into his hip, finally stiffening and juddering and then going utterly limp in his arms.

They stand there clinging to each other, sticky and hot, panting and dazed. The rain is easing off, the storm still roiling away in the sky but further away now, moving on past them. A bright electric crackle; a distant boom. As the world slowly reassembles itself around them, Will starts to feel that earlier sickness again, that dull turning of his stomach. They broke a rule. At probably the worst possible moment they could ever have chosen. He pulls back from Anna instantly, like her skin is burning his, and pulls up his trousers and boxers clumsily, struggling with his zipper. Anna looks totally dishevelled, her hair a mess, her dress halfway unbuttoned and rucked up, fabric clinging clammily to her thigh. She looks like she feels just the same as he does, and they stare at each other for a moment in faint horror before Anna brings a hand to her face, pressing her thumb and two fingers against closed eyes. Will doesn't know what to say, but she's the first to speak.

"Let's walk back to the apartments," is what she says, and her voice is flat, deadened; she sounds like she's expended every last bit of energy and emotion she had in her.

"We need to talk to Skandar." Will hears himself saying the words before he's even aware he's thought them, and then it's like it's the only thing on his mind, the only thing he can focus on. They need to put this right and how can they, if they just leave, if they just sleep?

"Tomorrow, Will," says Anna tiredly, buttoning her dress back up, "I can't, I can't do this anymore. I need a shower and I need to sleep and we'll face it in the morning."

"I need to talk to him."

"I know you do. So do I. But not now. He won't let us, anyway." She's picking up his jacket from the ground (he wasn't even aware of it slipping off her), brushing it down, holding it out to him and then putting it on herself when he doesn't react. "Are you coming?" she asks. He doesn't know how to deal with the total hollow emptiness of her voice.

"I need to talk to him," Will repeats. Oh, so you're just giving up? her voice echoes in his head, spilling over with emotion, but clearly she's done now—what just happened was the last straw, the final disaster in tonight's string of mistakes.

Anna sighs, turning away from him. "Okay," she says. "Okay. Do what you want."

"I don't think you should walk back on your own," Will calls after her, coming to his senses enough to realise that it must be quite late and it's a fairly long walk, not to mention the weather and the fact that they don't know the area.

"I'll get a taxi," Anna calls back without looking behind her, and Will says nothing, defeated, watching her leave, watching until she turns a corner and disappears from view. Some part of him knows he should follow her but he can't. He's exhausted, swaying on his feet, so tired that everything is hazy and surreal, but he knows now that he won't be able to sleep a wink until this has been put right. So, decisively, he heads back towards Skandar's trailer, shivering a little as the cool drizzle hits his heated skin.

Again, he knocks and gets no answer. This time he's even more insistent, banging on the door until his already-sore hands feel like they could bleed and he's finding it hard to remain upright, and he shouts Skandar's name for good measure, pleading for him to let him in. He doesn't care if he wakes anyone up, or at least, he doesn't think he cares, until the trailer right next to Skandar's creaks and the door opens to reveal Ben, standing there in a black dressing gown and squinting at him sleepily.

"Jesus, what's going on?" he calls across to Will, wrapping the robe tighter around himself and teetering on the edge of the steps in bare feet. "Are you okay? You look awful." When Will doesn't respond, he says, "You should probably come in before you keel over."

"No, I—I need to talk to Skandar," Will says, for what feels like the hundredth time.

Ben gives him a look. "I think at this point it's pretty clear he doesn't want to talk to you," he says, but his tone is gentle, and he gestures for Will to come in. "Come on. I'll make some tea."

That does sound incredibly tempting, so Will finds himself being ushered into Ben's trailer and bundled into the same cosy cardigan of his that Georgie was wrapped up in before.

"So I'm assuming Skandar isn't actually ill after all," Ben says, bustling about making tea, "or else you probably wouldn't be hammering on his door at this time of night."

Will glances at a nearby clock and sees that it's somehow past midnight already. He's perched on the edge of Ben's bed, and he can tell by the state of the sheets that Ben was clearly asleep earlier, or trying to be. He feels a pang of guilt at the realisation.

"I'm sorry. I wasn't trying to wake anybody up," he mumbles, a bit embarrassed.

"Except Skandar," Ben says teasingly.

"Except Skandar," Will agrees. "Though, he must be awake. He's just ignoring me."

"And I'm assuming that's in some way connected to the evening's revelation," Ben says, coming over and handing Will a steaming mug that he accepts eagerly, taking a sip without waiting for it to cool at all and not caring that he burns his tongue.

"Thank you," he says. He's still a little wary, but grateful, realising just how shattered he is now that he's stopped moving and yelling. "Wow. I really needed this."

"You looked like you did," Ben says, clambering onto the bed himself, settling down against the pillows with his legs crossed, his own mug warming his hands. "You don't have to tell me anything, you know. But if you want to, I'm here."

Will looks at him cautiously. Ben is not exactly the first person he'd choose to confide in, in ordinary circumstances, but the last few hours have been anything but ordinary, and he's beginning to lose his grip on things. Besides, he thinks bitterly—they're breaking Rules left and right tonight, what does it matter?

"I don't really know where to start," he says, and takes another gulp of tea because it seems to help.

"Okay, well, how about—are you and Anna really together?" Ben asks. "Like, really, genuinely? You're a couple?"

Will half-smiles at his choice of words, in spite of everything. "Well, we're together," he says carefully, "but we're not exactly a couple."

Ben frowns at him, puzzled, and then Will actually sees the cogs turn in his head, sees it click. Ben barks out a laugh, startled and disbelieving. "No!" he says. "With Skandar, too? All three of you?" Will nods. "Well, I mean. Actually, that explains a hell of a lot, now that I think about it..."

Will laughs too, at the relief of saying it to someone. He wonders if this is how Anna felt when she told Tilda, like a weight had been lifted. He feels a stab of guilt, remembering that he's doing this without her permission, or Skandar's, but it's too late now and it feels so good to have it out there that he almost (almost) doesn't care.

"You know, I always thought you were just so confused, and now it seems like I'm the one that was confused," Ben is saying, shaking his head, taking a sip of tea. "I mean, no offense, but you seemed like a mess. Just, from the outside. I couldn't figure it out. That's partly why—" he cuts himself off and takes another sip of tea, choosing his words carefully, "I was kind of trying to help. Probably not doing a whole lot of good, in retrospect. But, you know, after that one night we had...even though it was just a silly thing, a mistake really, I did think about it sometimes afterwards and I just had no idea what was going on with you. You seemed so...infatuated, with Skandar, and I couldn't believe anything was going to come from that, and then there was that whole thing with what I found under your bed..."

He laughs, and Will does too, flushing and putting a hand over his face, remembering Ben's reaction to the strap-on. It really must have seemed pretty bizarre from his point of view.

"And of course when the three of you mysteriously vanished at the leaving party!" Ben says, shaking his head as if it should've been obvious all along. "I knew there was something fishy about that twisted ankle story." He chuckles to himself. "God. You three have always been such codependent weirdos, I almost feel like an idiot for not working it out on my own—I'm rambling, sorry," Ben interrupts himself. "I just, you know...now that I know what's really been going on, I want to make my formal apology for—well, everything I might've done to potentially screw things up. I really was just trying to help, believe it or not."

"Apology accepted," Will says with a grin. He drinks down more of his tea, feeling its warmth spreading through his body, right down to his bones. In spite of how terrible things still are, he can't help but feel relieved that at least he and Ben might finally be able to recover from the subtle awkwardness that's been lingering between them ever since that night.

"Everything really makes a lot more sense now," Ben says thoughtfully. "How long have you been together? Quite a while, right?"

"Since the last premiere," Will says. "Though it's never really been that official. We never put a name on it. It started out as just...I don't know, with friends there's always so much risk involved and we never wanted it to get messy, so—" he breaks off, realising just how messy things are right now, his heart sinking again.

Ben nods. "So I'm assuming Skandar is pissed off at the fact that everybody thinks you and Anna are madly in love and exclusive, then."

"Yep. That's about the size of it."

"Well, that's understandable."

"Yeah, but what are we supposed to do? It's not like we meant for it to happen this way." Will can hear how dismissive he sounds but he can't help it.

"Did you apologise?" Ben asks, looking pensive.

"Sort of, but I mean—well, we didn't really do anything wrong..." says Will weakly.

"No, of course, I don't know what else you could have done, but I think you kind of have to act like you fucked up," Ben says, and Will frowns at him, uncomprehending. "See, Skandar needs you to take responsibility for it, completely. To act like it was all your fault and you understand that. Just saying "we're sorry, but what else could we do?" isn't going to be enough for him. That way, you're saying there's no one to blame. If you give him permission to blame you, then he can forgive you."

Sometimes, Ben makes so little sense that it's easy to forget he's the son of a relationship therapist and a professor of psychiatry, but right now it definitely shows.

"And then as soon as he accepts your apology, you have to move on," Ben goes on, shifting on the bed, repositioning his long legs. "He won't want to dwell on it. If he just wants to pretend like it never happened, you just follow his lead."

This all makes so much sense that Will is left speechless for a moment, wondering why he didn't think of it. But of course his judgement was clouded by mass amounts of emotion, and he clearly doesn't have the same knack for interpreting these situations that Ben does.

"I've been getting to know Skandar a lot better lately," Ben says with a shrug, by way of explanation, when he notices the way Will is staring at him.

"That..." says Will slowly, "that was really helpful." It doesn't solve everything, of course, but it's definitely a better approach than the one they've been trying—arguing and getting defensive and hysterical. "Listen, though, there's something else," he says, because now that he's started confessing to things he apparently can't stop. "Anna and I kind of—well, we had sex tonight, and that's—the three of us made these Rules, I know it sounds silly, but we thought we needed some sort of order because everything was getting a bit out of hand—"

"Let me guess, that was Anna's idea," Ben interjects with a chuckle.

"Anyway," Will rushes on, "one of the Rules is that two of us can't have sex if the third one isn't there. To prevent too many problems with jealousy and—things like that. And Anna and I tried so hard while we were back home but then with everything that went on tonight...I don't know, it just happened." Before Ben can respond, he's carrying on. "And another one of the Rules is not to tell anybody else about the three of us unless we've all agreed on it, and now I've told you. So," he fizzles out, "that's kind of a problem."

Ben nods, clearly trying to take all of this in. "Um," he says after a moment of thinking. "Well, I definitely don't think you should tell him about you and Anna, because with the way he must be feeling about you two already, that would just make things a million times worse. Honestly, he might have felt betrayed if it had happened when you were back home but the fact that it happened tonight—after everybody celebrating the relationship the two of you have and everything—" he makes a face, shaking his head, "—that would probably just end it."

Will absolutely understands that, and part of him is relieved that Ben's said what he was thinking, because it's not as if he was jumping for joy at the thought of admitting to Skandar what happened.

"And as for me knowing," Ben goes on, "I can pretend not to. You know, until you're ready to tell everybody the whole truth. It's really not a problem." He grins dorkily. "I am an actor, after all."

Will has to laugh. "Okay. Well, that would be helpful. I just feel so bad hiding those things. I mean, they're pretty big." In fact, the thought of not telling Skandar either of them makes him feel completely rotten. It means he'll be breaking the third and final Rule—telling each other everything.

Ben nods sympathetically. "It just seems like things are so volatile at the moment, you don't want to add to it. You might be able to tell them later, if things calm down a bit—but there's still a risk there, because the fact that you will have been keeping secrets for longer might make the betrayal feel worse." He pauses, shrugs. The word betrayal rings in Will's ears. "It's hard to judge."

"And I still don't know what the hell we're going to do, even if we manage to get Skandar to forgive us," Will blurts out, still so full of anxiety and stress, so many thoughts still whirling around his head. "He'd never come around to the idea of me and Anna just carrying on pretending to be a couple—not that we want to do that either—but he's not going to be okay with telling everyone the truth. I'm not even sure I'm okay with that."

Ben sort of grimaces in sympathy. "Yeah, that's kind of a tough one. I think...I think you'll just have to cross that bridge when you come to it. Forgive each other, and then talk to each other about it. You need to be sure of what you all want." He takes Will's empty mug from him, puts it on the bedside table. Will didn't even realise he'd finished the tea; he must have inhaled it. "There will be a solution though. There has to be." He smiles reassuringly, and Will is surprised to find that it actually kind of helps.

"Yeah," he says faintly, trying to convince himself further. "Yeah, there has to be."

"Listen, it's so late, and you're looking more and more spacey by the second. Do you want to sleep here tonight?" Will hesitates. "No funny business, I promise," Ben goes on, "we can even sleep top-to-tail if you want. It's just, you know. I'm worried if I let you walk back to the apartments you might collapse and die."

"That does seem like a possibility," Will admits, laughing despairingly. He can't face the thought of going back outside. Even the notion of getting a taxi seems like far too much effort, especially when he's sitting on a very inviting-looking bed and he's just had a nice hot cup of tea.

Ben smiles that reassuring smile again. "Okay," he says, "there's food in the cupboard if you need something to eat, and I'm ninety-nine per cent certain I've got a spare toothbrush in a packet under the sink. I can lend you something to sleep in, if you want—you look like you got caught out in the rain pretty bad."

Will just kind of lets Ben nudge him towards the kitchen area and the bathroom, gathers enough strength to eat a few crackers and brush his teeth, splash some cool water over his face and go to the toilet. By the time he comes back out of the bathroom Ben is curled up on the far side of the bed, the only light a dim, yellowish glow coming from the bedside lamp. There's a t-shirt of Ben's laid out but Will just strips off everything apart from his boxers and climbs in, not even thinking about the last time he was in Ben's bed, a year and a half ago now.

Even with a plan in his mind and the comfort of Ben's words, even with the totally engulfing, mind-numbing exhaustion he feels, it's still taking him longer than he thinks it should to drift off to sleep. He can't stop replaying the day's crazy events in his mind, and for some reason what he keeps coming back to is the conversations in the restaurant, all those expectations everybody had, seemingly insane at the time but now, he realises, perfectly logical. If he had been dating Anna all this time, all of those things they had to lie about—they probably would have happened. And it gives him a hollow sort of feeling somewhere in his chest to realise that they haven't, not with her and not with Skandar either. It had seemed fine, at the time, seemed amazing, to be living this hedonistic secret life, meeting up for sex, ordering pizza and eating it in bed before having even more sex, but—now he realises he wants more. He wants to take them on dates, go to the cinema and out for dinner like they used to, but no longer just as friends. He wants to cook them things more complicated than pasta and toast, he wants to buy them flowers and chocolates and special gifts, he wants to keep track of anniversaries, take them on holidays, celebrate Valentine's Day. He wants to say "I love you" in a way that he's never said it before.

The realisation hits him square in the chest and almost knocks the wind from him. He rolls over onto his back, staring at the ceiling, suddenly and illogically wide awake. He's in love with them.

And it seems like the cruelest twist of fate for him to realise it just when it seems he might lose them.




TBC.

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