Warnings: Boys in tights, Turtle's mouth, un-betaed-ness
Prompt: #21 - Vince is a dancer with a New York company (modern, ballet, etc) and E works as security guard/janitor at the studio. Recent past or modern, E/Vince preferred
A/N: OP, forgive me? I fiddled with the prompt a bit, but hopefully it still fits what you wanted.
Thanks to dancinbutterfly for getting this whole thing up and running.
Eric’s not really sure why they do it. Flirt with the accompanist. It’s not like he has any say, period, in who gets selected – but it’s like every single dancer who comes through the studio doors finds a way to smile, brush his shoulder or touch the back of his neck as they lay out their sheet music for him. One memorable girl even scribbled her number across the coda of La Fille Mal Gardée. Others, the look they give him when they pass across their music, it’s like they’re daring him to screw up. Nothing says mess this up and I’ll break your fingers like the eyes of a pre-audition dancer.
Time slot no. 9 on day two of auditions definitely falls into the first category. Not blatantly – as far as Eric can tell, the guy’s not even trying. With eyes and hair like that, it’s probably his natural default mode, the way he shakes his curls out of his face and smiles at Eric like he’s the audition prize. Eric looks down at the sheet music in his hands – Le Corsaire, Ali Variation – and has to fight the urge to roll his eyes. Shauna isn’t so kind, not bothering to hide her disgust when Hair-Shaker announces his piece to the judge panel. “Please tell me you’re kidding. This is our third pirate today, I swear to God.”
Eric has to hand it to the guy; he doesn’t flinch – just smiles lazily and drops into forth position. And really, good move, because all eyes are now on his ass. “Well you know what they say about third times,” he says, and Eric’s reluctantly impressed – confidence like that, you cannot buy. He looks over at Eric and starts tapping out a tempo with his heel. A little slower than usual, which means higher jumps and longer holds. Eric raises his eyebrows and the guy just grins back, all teeth. So he shrugs, smoothes his hands over the keys and at Shauna’s cue, rolls through the introduction.
Eric’s lived with his aunt long enough that it’s almost second nature to scan dancers with the clinical eye of a recruiter. He knows what to look for, even though personally he’d rather set himself on fire than get within ten feet of a barre. This guy – he’s good. Sloppy footwork, maybe, but light on his feet, big on the drama. He dances like he’s trying to shed his own skin, bright-eyed and a little wild. Eric watches closely, ramps up the music more than he usually would for an audition piece, and the guy responds, his next tourjete sharp, high and breathless.
So of course he trips.
Eric’s fingers are still going before he registers Hair-Shaker on his back, winded and wide-eyed. He clunks to a stop as his aunt clears her throat and Ari bellows “fuck my mother, what kind of a finish was that?” over the silence.
The guy winces, sits up, and Eric’s sitting close enough to see that his smile is fixed and his light eyes angry.
“Thank you, Mister…” – Aunt Linda glances quickly at the file in her hands – “…Chase. We’ll be back to you within the week.” Polite, clipped, final. Ari opens his mouth but shuts it again, fast – probably Linda grinding a heel into his foot.
Chase is still breathing hard and there’s a pause before he smiles out, “Thank you for your time, Ms. Murphy, Mr. Gold, Mrs. Roberts.” He eases to his feet, eyes flicking to Eric’s as he leaves. Chase can’t be that much older than he is – twenty, tops – and Eric takes a moment to feel for the guy.
“What did you think?” Aunt Linda calls to him across the room. Startled from his thoughts, Eric takes a breath, but -
“What, now Junior Liberace has a say in how this place is run?" Ari says disbelievingly. "If I’d known jerking off to Chopin would qualify me as a board member of a fucking - ”
Shauna makes an irritated sound and raps a stack of papers into place. “Can it, Ari, I’m fucking pregnant and I don’t need my kid hearing your filth in vitro. And Linda, leave your nephew out of this, I don’t give two craps what he thinks. What I think is we give this guy a pass, seems pretty clear he’s still got some kinks to work out.”
Ari swipes a hand across his mouth and shrugs. “Maybe so, Shauna, but no two ways about it, this guy has got it. Whatever ‘it’ is, this guy’s got it in fucking spades, he’s got enough to fit up Richard Simmon’s ass and then some. I mean did you see that? It was like fucking Hiroshima out there, I thought he was gonna detonate.”
“But if he pulls another stunt like that onstage – ”
Eric clears his throat. Ari looks like he wants to stab him, which just makes him feel more vocal. “You could let him sit in on a couple classes, see how he fits in. Like a trial period.”
Aunt Linda gives him an unreadable look. Before Ari can cut in, she says, “It’s a thought. We’ll have to talk about this one more later. If we find more qualified dancers, this will be a moot point anyway. Will you call in the next dancer, Eric?”
And that’s that. By the end of the day, Eric’s got a stiff back and cramping fingers and is tired enough to forget the whole thing – except when he pushes out the door, Chase is there, draped over the long bench by practice room 4.
“Hey,” he grins, “long time no see.”
“Yeah, that last couple of hours was agonizing,” Eric says flatly, shifting his messenger bag up his shoulder. “You’re wasting your time, buddy, I may be Linda Murphy’s nephew but I honestly don’t have any sway with those guys.”
Chase’s eyebrows go up. He’s genuinely startled and it throws Eric for a loop. “You mean you don’t remember me?”
Eric’s too fucking tired for this, and he’s about to snap out some smartass comment about Chase’s very memorable ability to stay upright when the guy is suddenly up in his space, all floppy hair and wide eyes. “Vince. Vinny Chase,” he says, pointing to himself with both hands, and he lights up in a grin when Eric’s jaw drops.
“What – wait. Vince? Jesus, it’s – it’s been what, thirteen years?” He’s pulled into a full-on hug and Vince – fucking blast-from-the-past Vincent Chase – is laughing in his ear. “Man, I can’t believe I didn’t recognize you, haven’t changed the haircut since the eighties, huh?”
“Says the guy who hasn’t grown since the eighties,” Vince says, tucking Eric under his arm as he pulls him out to the slush-spattered street. “You have no idea, I’m walking in those doors and bam, there you are sitting at that piano. And speaking of which, when the hell did you learn to play like that?”
“With Linda, it was that or ballet,” Eric mock shudders and laughs when Vince punches him in the arm.
“Asshole, you know I would have killed for dance classes with your aunt when we were six.”
“Yeah, about that, when did you learn to dance like that? I’d of thought your dad –”
“Divorce,” Vince says shortly, squinting against the gray light of the late-afternoon sun. “C’mon, we clearly have a lot of catch up to do and I don’t want to do it here. Oh, and I want to hear more about how pretty I looked at the audition.”
Vince’s voice is light, but his gaze is fixed and he’s still practically frog-marching Eric through Manhattan. Looking at the tense lines around Vince’s eyes, Eric feels the weight of the day sink back under his skin, and the whole situation suddenly feels surreal, more than he can handle. He scratches his forehead with a gloved hand, shifts minutely away from the warmth coming from Vince’s side.
“Vince, I can’t just – Aunt Linda is –”
“Whatever it is, just call her and say you’ll be late. She’ll understand,” Vince shrugs.
Eric rolls his eyes. The exasperation’s weirdly familiar, and he can’t fight the smile that works over his face. He hesitates a moment more – then Vince’s arm tightens around his shoulders, and his decision’s made for him.
“Yeah, I get it, the world revolves around your ego, fine,” he mutters, rummaging through his coat pocket for pay phone change. Tired or no, ex-best friends don’t just fall out of the sky every day.
When Linda hears that audition slot no. 9 was actually little Vinny Chase from Queens, Eric can practically hear the mother hen switch go off in her brain. She insists that Vince come up for dinner, and Vince just shrugs and says, “That’s cool. It’ll probably be better than anything I’ve eaten in the past year anyway.”
After that they walk mostly in silence, breath huffing out over their scarves. It’s a distracted silence, mostly focused on dodging briefcases and trashcans, and as it stretches Eric lets himself be a little amazed at how easy this feels. Stealing a glance at Vince, he can see why this tall, graceful stranger didn’t ring any bells back in Linda’s studio. But somehow that’s all right.
He visited twice the year after Eric moved away. Vince had been seven, young enough that the half-hour car ride felt like an adventure. Wasn’t like Queens was that far from downtown but it’d been Vince’s first time to Manhattan. Back then, for all the words “Upper East Side” meant to him, they might as well’ve been French.
Now, as Eric’s steering him up E 86th, Vince can’t help boggling a little. If he turns around he’ll see the mass of brown that is Central Park huddled at the end of the street. He must be gaping because Eric glances at him and laughs. “Linda got the place from her dad. Rent control.”
“Huh, good deal.”
Eric nods noncommittally and fishes for his keys, slowing down in front of a broad brick apartment building that Vince vaguely recognizes. Vince stands a little closer than is probably necessary while he waits, but Eric doesn’t move away.
Up the stairs (no elevator) and down a windowless hall to apartment 217. Eric heads straight for the darkened kitchenette. Vince toes off his shoes and drops his dance bag in the entryway. “Mind if I use your shower?” he calls, “I smell.”
“Yeah, sure. Remember where everything is?”
“I’m good. You making dinner?”
That gets a snort, and a clatter of plates. “Aunt Linda had me take over cooking once I was tall enough to see over the counter. That woman’s allergic to food preparation.”
Shuffling past the kitchen, Vince can see that Eric’s take on ‘cooking’ is sticking frozen burritos in the microwave.
“When’s she getting back anyway?”
“Linda? Fifteen, twenty minutes tops. She wasn’t going to stay long, just wanted to check in with Ari and Shauna about…”
Eric’s voice trails off. Ah. Right. The auditions. Vince finds the bathroom and squints at his reflection in the mirror, scrubbing a hand over the stubble already starting to dust his chin. He feels rather than hears Eric pad up behind him and lean against the doorframe.
“Vince,” he says quietly, “if this is about the audition, you gotta know this really won’t change that much for you, one way or the other.”
Vince turns, hip propped against the sink, and takes a moment to really look Eric over. Under the freckles, he’s got the pale, almost bruised-looking skin of a New Yorker in winter, and his light eyelashes seem to disappear over unwavering blue eyes. For a second it’s like thirteen years haven’t passed, and Vince wonders if Eric ever really recovered from the car crash that took both his parents – if he ever really made any close friends in Manhattan. Vince wouldn’t know – the letters dried up when they were eight, with Vince caught up in the Cold War of the months leading up to the divorce.
“I want to dance with NYCB,” he says finally, turning back to the mirror to peel back his t-shirt and prod at the purple bruise forming on his left shoulder blade.
Eric snorts. “Yeah, so does everyone else who ever wore a tutu.”
Vince shrugs. “I’m not aiming for Gold Standard, Eric, as good as you guys are. Auditions, I just think of them as practice for the real thing.” He meets Eric’s eyes in the mirror, half-expecting him to be offended or laugh in his face, but he just looks curious.
“That your first big-time audition?”
Vince shrugs a shoulder in affirmative. “Figured it’d be good to start on familiar ground.”
After all, his memory of visiting Gold Standard is one of the bright spots of his childhood. Linda Murphy was still teaching then and let him sit in on one of her classes. At age seven Vince was already hooked, having spent most Tuesdays and Thursdays at his mom’s feet as she watched Denise’s ballet classes at the YMCA, chatting with the other ballet moms. Denise used to show him steps in their basement, back when dad was still working and out of the house most of the day.
Back then, Eric had been the one kid in the neighborhood he could talk to about ballet. He never laughed, though he did wrinkle up his nose in confusion whenever Vince brought it up – “My Aunt Linda does that. She’s a girl.”
Still, he’d brought Vince to Gold Standard and they’d swung back and forth on the barres, socks slipping over the wood floor. Vince had never seen real ballet dancers up close – never seen men doing ballet. They reminded him of shadows, leaping weightlessly across the floor. Watching them, Vince imagined darting down a street, soaring one step ahead of dad’s angry hands with every bound.
Vince jolts back into the present when Eric taps his arm – holding out a tube of Ben Gay for his shoulder.
“So you’re telling me you weren’t even a little upset when you fell over?” he says with a smile.
Vince laughs. “More because I fell on my ass by way of a ‘hello, remember me?’ Back when I still thought you’d recognized me.” He pokes Eric in the chest accusingly before yanking off his sweaty rag of a dance shirt.
Eric rolls his eyes. “Can you blame me? You’re the last person I’d expect to see coming through those doors. You never did answer my question, by the way.”
“What, about where I learned to dance?”
Vince winces as he dabs the Ben Gay onto his back. Nothing too serious, just a little muscle soreness. “Dad left, Denise quit ballet, I took it up. Switched to QDA when Ma saw I was serious about it.”
Eric shoots him a disbelieving look. “You learned all that at Queens Dance Academy?”
Vince laughs. “Linda raise you to be a dance snob or what? It’s not that bad.”
“Not good enough to churn out the moves you were pulling today.”
“That a compliment? Aw, E, I’m flattered.”
“Vince. You’re seriously telling me they taught you Le Corsaire at QDA?”
Vince caps the ointment and sets it on the sink with a sigh. “NYCB Workout, you heard of it?”
The microwave beeps. “What, the New York City Ballet does aerobics now?” Eric calls as he goes to get it.
“Ha ha, no. It’s like a ballet alternative to high school P.E. – they’ve got NYCB-trained teachers, field trips to shows, the works. It’s a pretty good deal.”
Eric emerges from the kitchenette with a burrito in each hand and gives Vince a considering look. “That where your NYCB addiction comes from?”
Vince grins. He shuts the bathroom door and calls, “Nothing but the best, E.”
It takes Eric two days to figure out that for all his talk, Vince actually has no fucking clue what he’s doing.
“What do you mean, you only practice one hour a day?” Eric demands. He has Tuesday afternoons off – no classes to play for til 5:30 – so he’s letting Vince drag him to Ballet Tech, where the guy’s apparently making a living teaching Beginning I & II.
“A job at Ballet Tech, that’s like winning the freaking lottery. You got a decent pay and free practice space on the side, and you only practice one hour a day? Jesus, Vince.”
The look Vince shoots him is a pretty good try at nonchalant, but there’s a good deal of defensive underneath. “E, man, you have no idea what it’s like chasing eight year olds around a classroom all day. No way I’m in the mood to practice by the time the bell rings.”
On anyone else Eric would call it whining. He snorts, shifting his coffee to the other hand when it starts burning through his glove. Pushing against the tiled wall of the metro to let a group of girls pass, he breathes in caffeine and tries to convince himself he’s awake enough for this conversation.
“Plus, practicing on your own? It sucks,” Vince says after a pause, voice raising over the grumbling hiss of the approaching 6 Line. He waits til they’ve shuffled into a car among the other bag-eyed morning commuters to finish – “Hard to judge what you need to work on when you can’t see what you’re doing.”
He sounds edgy. Eric tries to get a look at his face, but they’re pressed so close that he just gets an eyeful of Vince’s chin and a lungful of aftershave and sweat. “You ask any of the other teachers to help you out?” he calls over the rattle of the car.
Vince’s frustrated shrug shoves against Eric’s chest. “I can’t ask them, they’re too busy with their own kids. Besides, I’m practically young enough to be a Techie myself. Still feel like I gotta prove something.”
A glance at the tense set of Vince’s jaw tells Eric he should let it drop. Instead, he lets Vince tease him about his coffee habit and lean on his shoulder to highlight his (according to Vince) caffeine-stunted height.
Vince has yanked Eric’s cup from his hand and is holding it over his head, laughing, when they squeeze out of the car. Eyes bright and cheeks flushed with cold, he dodges Eric’s grip and they’re both laughing by the time Eric chases him up the steps and into the honking grumble of Union Square.
The cold is like a slap to the face, and it sobers Eric up pretty fast. Swiping his coffee back, he keeps an eye on Vince as they weave in and out of traffic and muddy slush. It’s impressive, Vince’s ability to mask his mood at the drop of a pin. Eric’s not sure if he should feel worried or fascinated, and confusion heats the back of his neck. Vince is like a quiet, directionless whirlwind that’s slowly twisting Eric’s life to surround it, enough so that the offer to tutor Vince himself is already on the tip of his tongue. It’s crazy, because he’s never taught anybody anything in his life, but it’s a weird shock to know that Vince has all that stress hiding beneath the smile.
Before he can say anything, though, Vince is ducking under some scaffolding and pushing open a glass door next to Loews Theater. Eric follows him into an elevator and up six floors, and when the doors slide open it’s like stepping into the public school version of Oz. The kids all wear some hybrid of street clothes and dancewear, the halls smell like floor polish and dirty feet, and there are as many toe shoes as math books hanging out of passing backpacks. Eric can hear Shostakovich playing faintly somewhere over the chatter.
Vince gets swamped once they step into the hall. It’s nothing but ‘hi, Mr. Vince!’ and ‘who’s your friend, Mr. Vince?’ and Bambi-eyes the entire way to the practice room. The guy has the entire student body twisted around his little finger and he knows it, if the grin is anything to go by.
Eric’s a little surprised, then, to find out that he’s kind of a terrible teacher.
It starts out well enough. When the bell rings, a crowd of excited eight-year-olds pile into Vince’s practice room, scattering backpacks across the floor, tripping over untied shoelaces and shouting over each other. Vince folds himself Indian-style on the floor and just waits. It takes a while, but eventually the kids settle around him, sitting on cut-out rug squares.
“All right,” Vince calls over the chatter, “We’ve got a special guest today.”
Fourteen sets of eyes fix on Eric where he’s sitting on the piano bench, and the hairs on the back of his neck jump straight up. Kids, he never knows how to deal with them. Eric clears his throat and glances at Vince, who just smirks back. Great.
“Uh, hey guys,” he manages, “Mr. Vince asked me to play the piano for your class today.”
“If you ever dance with a big studio, you’ll dance to live piano music instead of CDs,” Vince says. “That’s what Mr. Eric does. He plays for classes at Gold Standard.”
A general ‘oooooh’ goes around the classroom at that, and the kids’ eyes get even bigger. A pig-tailed girl near the front of the room gives him a curious once-over and says, “How do you play piano when your hands are so little?”
Eric coughs, hard, and Vince doesn’t even try to smother a laugh. “All right,” he grins, lifting a hand before anyone else can jump in, “Mr. Eric can answer your questions after class. Let’s get started, okay?”
And it all goes downhill from there.
Eric watches over the top of the upright piano in a kind of horrified fascination. The thing is, Vince is actually pretty good with kids – he just doesn’t have a single disciplinarian bone in his body. The class is total chaos. Kids ‘need to use the bathroom’ in herds. One boy lies on the floor and closes his eyes in the middle of a stretch and just stays there for the next few songs. A plie exercise turns into a contest of how many kids can swing on one barre at the same time.
And that’s not even touching Vince’s idea of what ‘basic ballet’ means. The sheet music Vince has given him is pretty generic warm-up stuff – Billy uses it sometimes to start his classes – but Eric’s never seen anyone use it like this. Vince has cooked up exercises like ‘Jump Over the Dinosaur,’ where kids take turns clearing a toy rubber T-Rex in the middle of the room, and ‘Caterpillar,’ where the kids line up and chase Vince in circles.
At least he’s trying. Even if the class is a nuthouse, Vince actually seems like he’s trying to do good by these kids. He just has no clue how to say no to them.
By the time the class hits the hour mark, he and Vince have fallen into a kind of pattern. When Vince resorts to raking a hand through his hair and saying “Um, guys? Guys” a little desperately, Eric will bang shut the keyboard lid and yell “Be quiet and listen to Mr. Vince.” This will work for maybe ten minutes, tops – then wash, rinse, repeat.
Two hours and two classes later, Vince has most his weight propped against a barre, and he watches the last group of kids leave for lunch break with an unreadable look on his face. When the door clicks shut, Eric lets the silence settle a bit, taking a moment to just look at Vince’s drooping hair and the white sunlight at his back. Then he raps the sheet music together and says, “I’m starving, you gonna come with me and grab a sub?”
They’re silent til they hit the street, when Vince gives Eric a quick half-glance and says, “See what I mean?”
Eric knows a loaded question when he hears one. “I don’t know. You got a handful in there, Vince.”
Vince shrugs, pulls his scarf up higher. “Seemed like you handled them pretty well.” Another quick look. What’s Vince fishing for here?
“’Cause I’m not afraid to say no to them,” he says bluntly. “Vince, you can’t just let them walk all over you like that.”
Vince sighs, shoulders sagging a little under his coat. For the first time all day, he looks tired. “Some people just aren’t cut out for teaching, you know? And I know that. I mean, I know I’m not meant to stay here. If I don’t get a real dancing gig soon, I swear I’m gonna bust, E.”
Eric gives him a half-grin and quick nudge with his shoulder. “And what do you want me to do about it, huh? Gold Standard suddenly good enough for you, that it?”
He gets the reaction he wanted – Vince breaks out a small laugh and nudges back. “You still going on about that? But, uh, now that you mention it –”
Eric stops dead. “Vince,” he says, warning.
Vince pivots, rolls his eyes and loops an arm around Eric’s neck to pull him along. “Don’t be such a drama queen, E. I’m just asking you to help me out with practice. That too much to ask?”
“Practice?” Eric’s pulse jumps a little with surprise.
“Yeah.” Vince is looking at him closely now, like he’s latched onto an idea he likes and – come hell or high water – he will get. His cool fingers curl into Eric’s collar and he grins. “C’mon, it’d be great. You were just saying the other day how you used to do your homework every night on the studio floor at Gold. You grew up covered in this stuff, E, and don’t try to tell me you don’t know good dancing from bad, ‘cause we both know that’s a lie.”
And how’s Eric supposed to say no to that? It’s a little worrying, how fast he feels himself start to give. Even Kristen couldn’t work him like this, and he lost his virginity to her.
Vince is still watching him. “I’ll even pay you, E. C’mon, what do you say?” He punctuates the question with a squeeze to Eric’s shoulders.
“And when am I supposed to find the time to watch you dance? I play nights, you teach during the day.”
“And that leaves afternoons free for us to work,” Vince finishes easily. He unwraps himself from Eric to pull open the door to the flashily lighted Big Daddy’s Diner. He’s still got that smirk but he looks a little guarded, now, like he’s sensing an uphill battle.
Eric smiles to himself, and lets Vince stew a bit while he scans the posted menu. Vince is almost fidgeting by the time Eric pulls a wad of bills out of his pocket and shrugs. “All right. I’ve been looking for a reason to start working more on my own, anyway.”
If Vince is relieved, he’s hiding it. He leans against the counter while they wait to be served and raises his eyebrows. “Yeah? Tired of working for your aunt?”
“What I’m tired of is people giving me crap for working for my aunt. If I’m gonna work somewhere, I want to know I earned it.”
He pushes aside the thought that he isn’t exactly earning this thing with Vince, either. At least he won’t have Ari breathing down his neck, tossing around “nepotism” like it’s Eric’s middle name.
Vince just smiles. “Cool. So we’re set then. But let’s start next week, all right? You never know, Gold might want me after all.”
When the phone rings, Vince looks at the ceiling and counts to three before snatching it up. Just because he’s dragged the phone into his bed so he could lie there with the blinds drawn til it rang doesn’t mean he wants Gold Standard to know it.
He clears his throat. “Hello?” Cool as a cucumber.
“Vince?” It’s Eric. Both a disappointment and a relief.
“When’re your people going to get back to me, E?” he groans, “They said a week. It’s Sunday.”
“Uh – ” Vince can practically see Eric scratching the back of his neck – “That’s actually what I’m calling about, Vince.”
Huh. That can only mean one thing. Vince sighs, letting himself fall back into the sheets in a boneless heap. “Well, hit me with it, then,” he says, already resigned.
“You didn’t get it. They want you to try again next year, though. Ari especially, the guy really took a shine to you.”
Vince grunts and levers himself off the bed, holding the phone cradle in one arm as he pads the seven steps to the bathroom. He hasn’t gone all day in case he missed the call.
“So why didn’t he call me?” Vince grumps as he sets the cradle down on the sink and slides open his jeans. He wasn’t expecting to get a spot in the corps – didn’t even really want one – but that doesn’t mean he can’t be bitter.
“Wanted to tell you myself.” There’s a pause and a rustle, like E’s shifting the phone. “You all right?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. Just – first audition, you know?”
“Yeah. If it makes you feel any better, it was a tough call for them.” There’s another pause, then, “Vince. Are you taking a piss while you’re talking to me?”
“Uh – maybe?”
“Vince, that’s disgusting. I’m calling you back.”
“Wait, wait, E –” he fumbles for the receiver with one hand and tries to zip up with the other, “I still owe you dinner. Want to come by the apartment tonight?”
“Dinner?” Eric sounds surprised. “Um, sure. Okay. Want me to bring anything over?”
And that’s how Eric ends up at his door five hours later, six-pack in hand.
“Where’s the roommate?” he asks as he carefully toes off his shoes. When Vince shuts the door, Eric stands in the entryway a little awkwardly, blue eyes flicking quickly across the room.
“Still at work.” Vince dumps the beer in what they call the kitchen, but is actually more like a stove and sink stuck in the wall. Waving a hand at the window, he says, “Turtle waits tables down there, at his uncle’s.”
Eric eases off his jacket as he goes to peer out at the street. “S.P.Q.R?” he asks.
“That’s the place. Best in Little Italy. If we’re lucky, he’ll bring back some leftovers.”
That gets him a quirked eyebrow. “And if we’re not?”
“We’ll make do,” Vince grins, plopping down on the apartment’s lone couch.
Eric laughs. “You’re a real piece of work, you know that? Asking a guy back to dinner without actually having anything to eat?”
Vince stretches, scratching his stomach. “Something always turns up,” he shrugs. He reaches behind the couch, feeling around with the tips of his fingers. Old boxers, mail, more mail, something squishy – aha. He hefts up the bong and tilts it at E, eyebrows raised. “You want?”
Eric stares, unimpressed. “Seriously, Vince, what kind of a dancer are you? You ever heard of taking care of your own body?”
Vince blinks, brought up short. Before he can open his mouth, though, there’s a rattle of keys at the door and Turtle’s pushing in, balancing a covered lasagna pan in one arm.
“We hit the jackpot today, Vin,” he crows without looking up, shrugging out of his jacket and dumping it on the floor. When he turns and sees Eric he stops and points, directing his question at Vince. “Who’s this, Skee-Lo?”
“Yeah, like I haven’t heard that one a million times before,” E mutters. “I’m Eric. And I’m guessing you’re Turtle?”
“One and only,” Turtle grins, dumping the lasagna on the counter. “So are we gonna eat or what? I’m starving.”
Besides Johnny and Dom, they don’t usually have guests come around their place. It’s a tight fit as it is, with just Vince and Turtle. So when Turtle unfolds the pull-out table, the three of them just manage to squeeze around. Eric’s practically sitting on top of the shower curtain that blocks off their ‘bedroom.’
Still, it’s nice. Vince mostly sits back, amused, and watches Eric and Turtle’s back-and-forth. E’s less dramatic than Johnny and lightyears more mature than Dom, and he’s sharp as fuck. Makes for great dinner conversation.
Between the three of them, they clear out the whole pan. Scraping up the last bits, Turtle starts telling them about a customer he had today who apparently had the best rack this side of the Hudson. “Seriously, she could have been hiding a kid in there and you’d never know,” he says, waving his fork.
“God, close your mouth, Turtle, no one wants to see that,” E winces as a gob of tomato sauce comes flying out.
“I’m just saying!” Turtle says. “You a breast or ass man, Eric?”
Eric looks uncomfortable, glancing quickly at Vince. Vince just grins and leans back in his chair, waiting.
“Kristen had pretty nice legs, I guess,” he finally says with a shrug.
Vince tenses. He grabs a beer, pops the top open. “Kristen, huh?” he says lightly. “Who’s this?”
“Ex,” E says, looking at his plate and tapping his fork arrhythmically on the side.
“Yeah? She good in the sack?” Turtle asks, leaning forward.
Vince kicks him lightly under the table. “Don’t be an asshole, man.”
Eric’s shrugs again. “No, ‘s all right. I should start getting over it, anyway. We broke up five months ago.”
Turtle’s eyes pop open. “Five months, and you’re still hung up on one girl? You fucked anyone since?”
Eric shoots him an irritated look. “No!”
“Well there’s your answer!” Turtle proclaims, spreading his arms and leaning back with a grin. “Get some willing pussy, fuck someone who looks nothing like her, and move on.”
Vince circles the rim of his bottle with one hand, looking at E closely. “Maybe he’s right, E,” he says with a shrug. “Five months is a long time to still be hurting for an ex.”
“’Course I’m right,” Turtle snorts, “I know these things.”
“Turtle, the longest relationship you’ve had is with your left hand,” Vince shoots back, grabbing the pan and squeezing past Turtle to the trash.
“Oh, like you can talk, Boy George,” Turtle says, jabbing him with an elbow.
Eric snorts. “Boy George?” he repeats.
“Gayer than a hat trick,” Turtle says matter-of-factly, jabbing a thumb in Vince’s direction.
Vince stills as he stands over the trash, looking back at E. “That gonna be a problem?” he asks, studying Eric’s face. E just raises his eyebrows.
“Vince, I work in the ballet industry,” he says, smiling as he raises a bottle to his lips.
Well, that’s that then. Vince releases a breath he didn’t know he was holding and finishes stuffing the aluminum in the trash. He might be swaggering a little when he gets back to the table.
“Anyway, Turtle here is exaggerating,” Vince says, clapping him on the shoulder. “I’m known to have a deep appreciation of the female form.”
“Yeah, more like a deep appreciation of another guy’s dick up your ass,” Turtle cackles and ducks Vince’s swipe at his head. E just rolls his eyes, like he’s in a room full of infants. When they settle down, he leans forward with his arms crossed on the table and says, “So when do we start practice?”
Vince looks up from where he’s got Turtle in a headlock and shrugs. “Dunno. I have Wednesday and Friday afternoons open, I guess. Want to meet me at Ballet Tech at 1.30?”
Eric nods and pulls a tattered notepad out of his pocket. He jots something down with quick, precise marks, and gets up, grabbing his jacket from the couch.
“Leaving already?” Turtle asks.
“Linda wants me back by ten,” E shrugs. “Thanks for the meal, guys, it was great.”
Vince pushes aside the fold-out table and follows him to the foyer when Turtle says “All right, see ya around, momma’s boy,” and heads to the bedroom.
“When’re you going to get your own place, E?” Vince asks as Eric wrestles with his shoes.
He gets a grunt in response. “Believe me, Vince, once I get enough cash for my own place, I’m out.” There’s a pause as Eric moves to the next foot, then – “Kristen and I were thinking of moving in together for a bit, but…” He shrugs.
Vince leans against the wall, watching the freckled slope of his neck where it disappears beneath his collar. “You could always move in here,” he says on impulse. “I know it’s small, but it’s better than nothing, right?” New York being the way it is, it’ll be years before E has enough to live on his own. And he can tell Eric’s the kind of guy who would see living with his aunt as charity, and hate it.
“Turtle likes you, I like you, and it’d make rent a little lighter for everyone,” he pushes.
Eric straightens and gives Vince a look like he’s trying to figure him out, cheeks pink from bending over.
“Vince, this place is tiny,” he says, gesturing with his elbow. “Where’m I going to sleep, the couch?”
“At least til we get a loft built, yeah,” Vince grins. “Turtle’s uncle’s been talking about helping us raise the beds for a while. You could fit in right underneath. Not like you take up that much room.”
Eric still looks like he can’t believe Vince is for real. “We’ve only really known each other for a week,” he says, “And you already…?”
Vince cuts him off, getting impatient. “We’re friends, E,” he shrugs, pushing his hair out of his eyes. “That really such a tough concept?”
E just keeps looking at him, looking kind of touched under his surprise. “Um, well, thanks, Vince,” he says with a small smile, shoving his hands in his pockets. “I’ll think about it, okay?”
“You do that,” Vince says firmly as he unlocks the door. “And I’ll see you on Wednesday, all right?”
When Eric leaves, Vince moves to the window and watches til E’s red-blond head disappears up Mulberry Street, feeling like his life is slowly starting to click into place.
One month later, Eric’s almost moved all his boxes out of Aunt Linda’s apartment. Johnny’s idling downstairs, ready to drive the last batch down to Little Italy.
“Take care of yourself, Eric,” Linda sighs, brushing his hair back from his forehead with a cool hand. “And if you ever need anything, you know where to find me.”
Eric shifts his hold on the box as it slips. “I’m still gonna see you every day, Aunt Linda,” he reminds her.
“Yes, but who’s going to cook for me?” she counters with a wry smile. Eric laughs and gives her a quick kiss on the cheek. “All right, all right, get out of here,” she grumbles, giving him a swat and shooing him out the door. “And don’t think you can come late to work now just because you live farther away!” she calls down the hall before he hears the door click shut.
It’s a small step, but it’s a step, Eric thinks as he jogs down the stairs. He’s that much closer to getting his own place, independence. He grins to himself, chin tucked over the cardboard box in his arms, as he pushes out the front door and into cold sunlight.
“Well look who finally decided to grace us with his presence,” Johnny yells from the driver’s seat when Eric finds the guys parked two blocks away. Vince hangs out the passenger window, grinning from behind a battered set of aviators.
“Ready to go, roomie?” he says as Eric slides into the back seat. Vince tosses him a half-empty bottle of Smirnoff and claps a hand on his knee.
“Seriously, Vince? It’s three in the afternoon.”
“It’s a toast to your first baby steps into manhood, E,” Johnny says, twisting to look at him even as he tries to pull out of parallel parking.
“Jesus, Johnny, look at the road!” Eric yells as a woman dodges the back of the car, shrieking. Somehow they make it to Mulberry in one piece, and with a minimum of vodka spilled on Eric’s shirt. Turtle meets them outside, grumbling the entire time as they drag the last of the boxes up to the third floor. Waste of breath, because Eric really doesn’t have that much stuff. In fact, with the beds lofted and his small inflatable mattress tucked by the window, the place almost feels bigger.
Once everything’s in place, Vince brushes his hands off and grins. “All right, ready to hit the road?”
Apparently the Smirnoff was just a warm up.
Eric doesn’t have a fake, so they have to keep slipping him in the back wherever they go. Soho is Happy Hour central, and they go from bar to bar, on a roll, until the sky turns a purplish-orange and their laughing, alcohol-heavy breath stands out white against the dark. The last place they stumble out of, Eric’s leaning on Vince, barely noticing his cheek’s in a wet spot where Vince spilled beer on his coat. He’s saying something, and when Eric jerks his head up to hear he clocks Vince in the chin.
“Fuck!” Vince’s arm tightens on Eric’s shoulders as he stumbles and he’s mashed into Vince’s side. There’s lipstick on the sharp curve of his jaw line.
“Lipstick,” Eric says accusingly, shoving Vince in the ribs. “The fuck. That from a guy?” The anger’s sudden and hot, burning like a waxy red smear on tan skin.
Hand fisted in coat, Eric fishes his clouded memory. The place they just left, Vince was dancing. Who with? Sweeping red lights, wet skin, shadowed face. Couldn’t see, flash of blonde. Vince’s arm curled around a waist. Loose hips. White smile. Fuck. Eric’s fists itch, muscles burn, and Vince still has him pressed against his neck, furnace-hot as they stumble down the street.
He squeezes his fogged eyes shut and still there’s Vince, dancing. Strobe-light spangled, head back, neck loose. Black tights, arched spine, pirouettes. Piano keys slick under his fingers, Vince’s feet pressing the floor. Fucking Vince. Fingers-curled-on-Eric’s-scalp Vince. There’s a reason he doesn’t usually drink like this, maybe the same reason he hasn’t fucked anyone since Kristen. Maybe the same reason it took Vince a month to coax Eric into his apartment.
He drops his head to Vince’s shoulder, not looking where they’re going. Beneath the flush of alcohol, Eric’s wound tight enough to snap. Last time he wanted this sharply, this badly, Kristen tore him to shreds.
This, though, this is worse. He loved Kristen, maybe, but he never felt like she held his whole life in the palm of her hand.
Vince, though. Fucking Vince.
He’s not sure how they get back to the apartment. Just registers the heat as they stumble inside, sweating as they shed their coats. The fuck are Johnny and Turtle? Vince trips over a set of sneakers and snags his fingers in Eric’s shirt to stay up. He hiccups a laugh, his eyes bright in the dark, gleaming with something sharp and light and - and happy.
“I got you,” Vince says lowly, even though Eric’s the one holding them up now, and suddenly he’s pressed to the wall with a mouth covering his like a brand.
It’s a shock, the feel of Vince’s muscles burning through his thin t-shirt, his alcohol-slick lips bruising and rough. There’s a sharp hiss and suddenly a tongue in his mouth, tracing the edge of his teeth, and Eric’s hips jerk without any command from his brain. Vince’s jeans are rough, his leg jammed between Eric’s thighs, and it almost hurts and it’s good, good like the long fingers and blunt nails dragging through the sweat at his back, the hand gripping Eric’s head in place as Vince’s tongue takes, takes, takes.
Eric sags into the grip, his hands clenching, and lets him.
“You’re late, douchebag,” Turtle yells as Eric hauls ass backstage.
He’s too out of breath to respond, just flips him off and keeps running, dodging frantic dancers, piles of tulle and electrical tape. It feels like he’s breathing straight hairspray. Eric skids to a stop in the wings just as strains of the overture start to filter through the curtain. Vince starts and whirls around, relaxing when he sees it’s him.
“Fuck, you scared me,” he stage-whispers, bending for a kiss that Eric knows will leave a smear of lipstick.
“Let me get a look at you,” he says, stepping back and doing quick inventory. Baggy blue trousers, no shirt, kohl and gold arm bands. Eric grins. “Looks good, pirate.”
“Yeah?” Vince grins back, straightening the collar on Eric’s suit. For someone on the edge of the first solo of his career, Vince is the picture of cool, posture relaxed in the shade of the wings. He rolls his shoulders and smiles as the overture crescendos behind him, flexing his toes for his first professional steps on the stage at the Lincoln Center.
“Nothing but the best, E,” he says, and then the curtain rises and he’s off.