They get into Sheffield late. There are just a few hours before the show, and everybody's thinking the same thing, but nobody's saying it. Karl thinks more than once, testily, that if he had a taste for unacknowledged tension and things left unsaid, he would have just gotten married and forgone this mad continental wandering gig he's gotten himself into instead. It's the night of the Sheffield show and no one's pretending they haven't been thinking about this since Dublin, or before, most likely. There's a loose, unspoken expectation that Bean will appear, which no one wants to attempt to clarify or confirm, because the alternative is just - anyway. Karl imagines he feels much the same way everyone else does about it. Except Viggo; Karl's not really certain how Viggo feels at all.
After the show in the long fluorescent-lit hallway backstage, Elijah catches Karl's elbow as he jogs past, making a beeline for water and a clean towel, in that order.
"I couldn't see anything in the lights, was -?" Elijah says quickly, looking side to side like they're not even supposed to be talking about this at all.
"Yeah, he was," Karl replies, neutrally. He glances backward to see Dom and Billy lurching down the hall together like a three-legged horse.
Elijah chews his cuticle. "Think he'll –"
"Bean'll either come in and sweep Viggo off his feet," Dom announces loudly as he walks past, making Elijah wince, "or he'll arrive with a knife and a long-stemmed rose and that will be the end of both of them."
Karl shrugs, but Dom is grinning with sweat about his temples, all sharp toothed and shiny in the harsh light.
Elijah laughs, high and surprised and a little embarrassed, "No, no," as Dom throws an arm around his shoulder and drags him off towards the dressing rooms.
"Personally, I hope it's the latter," Dom calls over his shoulder. Karl shares a glance with Billy, who sighs once, smiling slightly, and follows them.
In the big room down the hall there are snacks and towels waiting and everyone jumps around a bit, shaking themselves out and slowly coming down. Karl feels that he's just got his feet on the ground again when Bean steps into the doorway and stands there for a long moment during which no one speaks.
"You made it, then," Bernard finally says with something like relief. He stands up and takes a few steps forward.
Bean rubs the back of his neck. His hair is shorter, Karl notices, less sandy than it had been while he'd been with them, but then and they'd all been evolving into a sort of shaggy collective look in those days, with the exception of Billy and Elijah. Bean's in jeans and a serious black jacket, the kind someone might wear out to dinner. Karl imagines him for a moment, sitting in a tangle of kids in the audience, watching patiently amid their riot of buttons and flowers and thrift-store cardigans.
"It was on my way home," Bean is saying, squinting a bit. "And I figured why not stop by and see you lot butcher a good folk tune then, eh?"
There is a moment of complete silence before Karl sees it, that fugitive twinkle Bean is trying so hard to disguise. It seems that everyone sees it, because there's a collective breath and then -
"You sneaky bastard," Dom shouts, grinning madly, and gets up and launches himself at Bean. He has time to say "oof" and steady himself a bit and then there are ten people all shouting and laughing and trying to touch him at once, and Bean is trying to answer questions and hug everybody properly in turn, and no one is having any of it.
"Good Christ, but we're glad to see you," Bernard says.
"Van need fixing again, does it?" Bean replies easily, grinning, and Karl feels himself mirroring it back without even thinking as Bean hugs Bernard so hard Karl could swear he hears a rib crack. He realizes, somehow, he'd forgotten this, the way Bean is, how good it could be to move at the pace of Bean's good humor.
Karl decided some time ago that they followed Viggo because they didn't have a choice. It was impossible to resent, really. But they followed Bean because it was easy, and the simple ease of it made them happy to go along.
Bean kisses Liv's cheek and she asks, "Did you bring the girls?"
"They're with their mums, respectively. Reckon they've had enough of their old dad's band," Bean laughs. "Some of their mates did ask for autographs from this one here, though," he nods at Orlando, who actually turns pinkish and laughs. "Now which one of you cheap bastards is buying me a drink?"
Later, at the pub, Bean is squished on a bench between Dom and Elijah, who are running on jokes like a relay team and spilling their drinks on Bean in their enthusiasm. Karl sees him laughing and almost wishes he hadn't spotted Bean in the audience. He's not sure he wants to remember it, seeing that familiar sharp profile between a sea of upturned palms, waving hungry and soft-looking. He's more comfortable thinking of Bean grinning behind his kit, always halfway between focused and amused.
But it's easy to forget the rest, Karl reminds himself. He steals a glance at Viggo where he's sitting quietly, nursing his drink and watching Bean with a careful expression. Down the table Bean is fondly recounting the incident in which he and Viggo and Daisy kidnapped a sleeping Orlando from his bed and deposited him in a park fountain. Dom was drunk and riding on Viggo's shoulders and decided to climb in to keep Orlando company.
"No, not a fountain, it was an aqueduct," Daisy interrupts, leaning forward. "There were those horrible great fish, you remember –"
"And my testicles have never recovered from the cold," Dom tells the table, standing up on the bench and gesturing grandly, as his drink sloshes dangerously. "Ladies and gentlemen, it is a modern tragedy –"
"That's odd," Orlando interrupts, frowning down at his lap, "mine weren't affected except for –"
Orlando's drowned out by Bernard's and Viggo's laughter. Karl finishes his drink and watches Bean signal for more drinks, half-catching Dom with one arm as he nearly topples back down.
There's Bean who was the only one who could make Viggo apologize for anything, and the only one who could get him to stop apologizing once he started, but there was also Bean and Viggo, with four divorces between them, fighting their way around the world like they were trying to rack up a fifth.
Dom once told Karl that Viggo's problem would always be their problem, because Viggo acted like a leader, but refused to think of himself as one. Karl's not sure that he completely agrees with that now; things are shifting, and he thinks even Dom would agree that this time around, it feels less like being led somewhere and more like their collective desire to go.
Things are shifting, and when Liv, Sean and Daisy make their farewells after three drinks Karl pulls himself up to head back to the hotel. Viggo still hasn't said much, but Karl doesn't want to be here to see it if things get strange. He hugs Bean tightly when he goes, says he'll see Bean tomorrow, and when he looks back, sees Bean and Viggo on opposite sides of the table like chess opponents, flanked by Dom and Billy and Orlando and Elijah. Dom's back on the bench, flailing, Billy and Orlando are getting up to catch him or maybe tackle him to the ground, and Bean and Viggo are sitting there looking at each other. A bit too late, he thinks, to avoid things getting strange.
When Billy comes downstairs the hotel breakfast room is almost deserted. He spots Viggo, moving his hands around vaguely and talking, and Orlando, in three sweaters, slouching deeply in his chair.
Billy wonders, briefly. He slows his pace to give them time to notice him.
"And he's, he's happy, you know," Viggo is saying as Billy sits down at the table. "And I think I must have been, I don't know, that I couldn't see how that could be, at all –" He stops and picks up a piece of silverware, sets it down again, crooked.
The way Viggo is talking fast, almost helplessly, Billy knows he's not talking about anybody in the band, and he's not talking about Henry. Billy reaches for the tea.
"Mm," Orlando says, possibly in response, possibly spontaneously, his hands wrapped around a cup of tea. The outermost sweater is an unfortunate orange. The skin beneath his eyes is almost transparently blue.
"Quite a night, eh," Billy says by way of greeting. "How's our Pirate Jenny, still alive?"
Orlando makes a warning noise in his throat. When Orlando turned up in L.A. at Viggo's reunion summons with a South Seas tan and a crooked, patchy growth on his upper lip, Dom and Billy started calling him Pirate Jenny. Orlando bore it with a martyred expression entirely inappropriate to someone who'd put on a blouse and grown his hair out and shown the world his swash and not a little bit of his buckle.
"If it makes you feel any better, Dom says he's never drinking again," Billy continues, "so you can be sure it's very serious."
Viggo pulls the napkin closest to him to a sharp right angle and crosses his legs underneath the table. Billy decides to stop talking and reach for some porridge in the hope that it will give Viggo the chance to finally get wherever he's heading.
"So, we, ah, Sean and I," Viggo says carefully, as if still waiting for permission to speak. "We talked for a while last night."
Orlando is nodding his head very slowly. Billy knows it looks like respectful, active listening, but that it probably has more to do with Orlando's hangover.
"And it was good to, you know," Viggo trails off and shifts again in his seat. He's wearing a slight smile.
Billy busies himself with buttering the toast. Orlando sips his tea.
"Anyway, and who knows, maybe. In the future, I don't know," Viggo waves a hand. Billy raises his eyebrows. "I don't know," Viggo says again, and clears his throat.
"Mhm," says Orlando.
"Right, yeah," says Viggo, nodding. "So, it's something to think about. Anyway."
Orlando makes an excellent shrink while hung over. Billy knows this from experience. He once went to Orlando's room to borrow a razor and ended up staying for two hours, talking about those months he'd been without Dom. Orlando sat very still at the head of the bed under a clump of blankets and nodded while Billy talked. Something about Orlando's bleary eyes and chapped lips started Billy talking about how Dom lived with such fierce intent, it figured, really, that the first time they'd said no to each other it grew to the size of an entire ocean, a whole continent. Orlando just nodded, hair flopping against his shoulders, when Billy explained that even with all that space, he had to smoke a pack a day to get the taste of Dom out of the back of his throat, at first. Which wasn't any better, but it wasn't any worse, either, so Billy kept doggedly on. Eventually it went away. He kept smoking. He hadn't told anyone that, not even Dom.
Billy told Orlando about how he'd thrown up every morning for a week and Orlando's eyes got very wide suddenly and he bolted for the bathroom.
He came back looking pale and crawled under the blankets again. "Sorry, um," he said. "Sorry. Go on."
Billy smiles and wonders if Orlando threw up while Viggo talked about Bean. He wonders if Viggo noticed.
Across the table Viggo looks tired, reflective. Billy doesn't envy him. Last night the group had peeled off in twos and threes until inevitably Bean and Viggo were left. Billy doesn't know what happened after; he doesn't need to. If Viggo's head was chronically overfull, so was his heart and things worked themselves out, Billy believed. Or they didn't.
"I think," Orlando says carefully at last, and Viggo and Billy both looked at him, waiting. "I think I'll have some toast."
Viggo started laughing. Billy would laugh too if he didn't think his head would ache with the sound, so he just grins and passes Orlando the marmalade.