the price we pay

by renegadekarma

That’s why they do it, after all, after all this time. They’re a team for an evening every week, united in their love for the same girl.

Liquor is everywhere. That’s what Tatiana is most aware of; the drunk men hitting on her, followed by the occasional woman, the way that the bartender reeks of beer himself, how she’s rarely found herself without a glass of something exotic looking in hand, even if she hasn’t had much to drink yet.

Her hazel eyes are fixed on her friend, who’s having the time of her life on the dance floor. There’s sweat on Seren’s forehead and her eyeliner is beginning to run, but Tatiana considers that she’s rarely seen her best friend look more liberated than she does when she’s dancing, with alcohol in her veins to take away all her inhibitions.

There’s the sound of footsteps beside her, and Frankie appears, shaking off glitter. “Some drunk girl,” he explains as if that’s enough of an answer, gesturing to the glitter on his shirt front. She merely nods, and he turns to the bartender and orders another two shots because what the hell – they’re young and they’re mostly free and if they can’t try to enjoy life now, when else can they?

He slides one over to her, and they take their places side by side, backs pressing into the counter of the bar as they survey the dance floor.

“Bloke on the left, blonde hair,” Frankie points out, and she shakes her head.

“Too short,” she replies before nodding her chin toward their right. “The redhead in the green dress.”

“She’s the one who got glitter all over me and tried to kiss me already,” he replies, swirling the liquid in his glass around.

They have games, of sorts, that they play when at the bar. Pick out the attractive people for the other one to hit on, for starters – but here comes their most common interest, and this is another game in itself. For if Seren is a flame, then the men that stop by her are moths, attracted to how she dazzles in her glow – and they’re just as short-lived lovers as moths who get to close to a fire are.

They both consider Seren in front of them, moving her hips to the steady staccato beat of the song as a man winds his hands around her front, pressing her in toward him.

“What a sleazy bloke,” Tatiana observes.

“I’ve seen toilets cleaner than his hands,” Frankie returns.

“He looks like he’s trying to drink her neck.”

“She can do so much better.”

And so begins another one of their games. They have an odd relationship, Tatiana and Frankie. Not exactly good friends, per se; but allies, it seems. They have a common interest, and that’s watching over Seren. Neither of them seems to dance all that much at clubs like this one, and they’re far more likely to sit by the bar and comment on the jerk of the week who’s trying to hit on Seren. It’s a strange friendship they have, but it works, somehow, so they keep it and continue this charade for a bit longer.

They don’t seem to get very much drunk, either. In this sense, they seem to be matched well, like a pair of personal bodyguards. Their eyes move in sync as they watch the man whisper something into Seren’s ear, watch her giggle, and watch the two of them creep out from the throng on the dance floor.

“Snogging in a dark corner, five sickles.”

“Snogging in the bathroom, five sickles.”

This is yet another one of their games, of the many bets that they make each time they come here. They don’t even glance at each other as they take a simultaneous swig of their drinks, wince in unison, and place the empty glasses down behind them as they motion the bartender for another one, sitting on the stools now.

Maybe it would be easier to just dance. Tatiana had been ignoring the bloke who’d been eyeing her for the last hour, and Frankie had already shook his head at the girl who the brunette had pointed out kept flirting with them. They’re content with this lifestyle, and they both knew the reason why.

They see the bathroom door swing as Seren and the bloke stumble out, her hair looking suitably mussed. Wordlessly, Tatiana hands Frankie five sickles, and he takes it without looking at her. There’s no hostility. She’ll probably win it back that very night. Money seems to change hands quite often when it comes to the two of them.

They watch as the blonde resumes dancing, and then the bartender is back with another two glasses, which they pick up right away.

“I just wish –“ Tatiana starts to say abruptly, but then stops herself. She reluctantly tears her gaze away from the dance and at the boy with curls in his hair, glitter caught faintly in them. She doesn’t need to finish her statement, but she does anyway. “I just wish she didn’t do this.”

There’s no further explanation needed. They both know what she’s referring to. Ever since her and Seren had graduated, this had become routine for the three of them. Their Friday nights were spent at the club, getting suitably tipsy while Seren danced, them helping her home, Tatiana holding back her hair while she vomited into the toilet, Frankie tucking her into bed. It’s a steady, stable routine, but Tatiana doesn’t like it.

Evidently, neither does Frankie. “I know,” he replies. “But, well, that’s what makes her Seren.”

They clink their glasses together and drink in unison, wincing as the fire burns their way down their throat before putting the glasses down on the counter heavily.

“It would just be easier if she didn’t,” Tatiana continues, twirling a lock of chocolate brown hair around her finger as she considers it. “It would hurt less.”

“It would hurt her less, or it would hurt us less to watch her lead herself into self destruction?” Frankie replies.

She considers him. His is a head meant to support a crown of roses; he has a smile that’s meant to curve up without a trace of sorrow; and his eyes shouldn’t look like he carries the weight of not only his world, but his best friend’s as well.

Tatiana sees her own reflection in the bottom of the polished glass in the counter as she twists to look at it. Her laughter is supposed to come naturally; there aren’t meant to be dark circles under her hazel eyes from how weary she is even if she’s so young; hers are fingers that are meant to lace through someone else’s.

Neither of them deserve to love like this.

“Both,” she answers simply, and he nods, still turned toward Seren from where she moves to the rhythm of the music.

“It would be easier if I wasn’t in love with her,” he adds hollowly.

She nods. “It would be easier if I didn’t feel the same about her too.”

It’s the first time Tatiana’s said the words aloud, and the reaction is swift as he turns his head sharply in her direction, regarding her as she says it, but there’s no real surprise in his eyes as he considers her. That’s why they do it, after all, after all this time. They’re a team for an evening every week, united in their love for the same girl who they might once have competed over to be a better best friend to.

Any response he might have had is cut off abruptly when the woman who this whole thing is about stumbles over, teetering on the heels that are too high for her (and the ones she’d refused to take off when Tatiana had pointed out this fact).

“Guys,” she slurs, the words heavy on her tongue. “Have you had the vodka yet?”

All it takes is Frankie and Tatiana exchanging a single glance and then they’re a team again. He loops Seren’s right arm over his shoulder as the brunette does the same with the left, and together they move with their best friend caught in between them. She’s singing something now, about stars or flowers or love (and honestly, it’s hard to tell because Tatiana’s more focused on making sure they’re outside before Seren throws up, and she knows Frankie will be there to conjure up a handkerchief for Seren to wipe her mouth with afterward).

And if drunk songs and listless nights of waiting and watching are the price she pays for love, Tatiana would gladly pay it. Because this is Seren Jones, her best friend, and she’s in love with her; but her loyalty comes first, and so she merely steadies the blonde against her side as they continue stumbling out of the club.