Beck – Chapter 3

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Beck

Holding a trembling Kole in his arms, Beck called himself every curse word he knew. When someone had been through what Kole had been through, another person didn’t just grab them to get their attention. For fuck’s sake, Beck.

He cradled Kole, muttering his apologies as occasionally people moved around them. The crew had been and gone, Joey physically dragging Ethan away when he’d refused to leave his best friend. Beck wasn’t sure if Kole would want Ethan to have seen him that way, but it was too late. Undoubtedly, Ethan would have words for Kole the next day.

But for the moment, Kole was Beck’s concern. His body trembled like an autumn leaf hanging by its last stalk, though whether it was from panic or the cold, he wasn’t sure.

“Kole, let’s get inside. It’s getting colder. I need to get you warm.”

Kole didn’t respond vocally, but he tightened his grip on Beck’s coat. Beck’s shins were freezing from kneeling on the cold ground, and he manoeuvred to get his feet beneath him while still holding onto Kole with the same strength he had before. He didn’t want him to think he was letting him go.

“That’s it. I’ve got you,” he said as Kole responded to the move and rose with him. He guided them towards the hotel, and the doorman opened the door for them with a sympathetic expression. Kole kept his face buried but loosened his hold once they were inside.

Wasting no time, he aimed for the lifts, reaching to call for it before putting the hand back on Kole’s head. Their reflection showed how small Kole seemed to want to be, and the pain ravaging his own face. Barely keeping his memories under control, he focused on Kole. On how he felt in his arms. On holding him tight enough to make Kole feel safe. On apologising for scaring him.

When the lift finally arrived, he bundled them both into the small space and counted the seconds until it deposited them out. He guided Kole down the hallway to his room.

“Kole, do you have your key?” he asked gently.

Kole stiffened but then nodded. His grip loosened on Beck’s T-shirt, his hand smoothing down his front until it left his body to reach into his pocket. Pulling out a keycard, he trembled as he held it out. Beck took it and opened the door, hesitating on the threshold when Kole seemed reluctant to let him go.

“Can you…” Kole sniffed and pulled away, not finishing his sentence. “Thank you. I…”

“You don’t need to say thanks. Not for this.” It was also one of the last things anyone needed to apologise for. “Do you need anything?”

Kole shook his head, but he visibly shook as he wrapped his arms around his waist. Beck wanted to enfold him in his arms again, but he didn’t want to overstep his boundaries. Maybe they were past that, but he wouldn’t do anything without Kole’s express permission.

“I’m only next door, and you have my number if you need anything at all. Okay?”

Kole nodded again, and though Beck wasn’t sure leaving Kole alone was the best option, he stepped back. Before he left, he said, “I’m going to come back in a bit with some food. Make sure you answer your door. I would hate to break it down.”

It brought a slight curve to Kole’s lips, which eased Beck’s conscience a little. “Okay.”

It wasn’t the confident acquiescence the man would usually give, but it was something.

“See you in a bit,” Beck confirmed.

He left the room, closing the door tightly behind him, and stared at it for a few seconds before heading to his room down the hall. It was identical to Kole’s except the opposite way around, the beds being against the same wall. He wasn’t completely confident, but he believed he could hear Kole shout if he needed him.

Stripping off his T-shirt, he grabbed his phone and texted Joey with an update about Ethan’s best friend.

BECK: Kole is in his room now. I’m going to order us some food and make sure he eats before he gets some sleep. I’ll keep an ear out as much as I can tonight.

JOEY: Thanks. That’s helped Ethan to relax. We knew it was bad, but we didn’t know how bad he could get. I thought therapy was helping.

Joey must’ve been waiting for an update to have answered straight away, but Beck pursed his lips at his words. Therapy wasn’t something that helped or didn’t. Sometimes, it helped that week. Sometimes, it didn’t help at all. Sometimes, it felt like jumping forward three steps before going back ten. It was a fluid experience, and one everyone felt differently about.

Beck shook himself, not wanting to take himself back to the times he spent in a therapist’s office, hoping they had a magic cure.

They didn’t.

BECK: It is helping, but he’ll have relapses, the same as anyone. Give him time. I’ll let you know if there are any problems.

JOEY: Thanks. Unless we hear from you, we’ll see you both in the morning.

Beck didn’t respond. Instead, he grabbed the takeaway menus from the drawer and flicked through them, deciding on Chinese. He wasn’t sure what Kole liked, so he ordered several dishes, knowing whatever they left, they could take home the following day. The rooms, thankfully, had small fridges. The takeaway place said they’d deliver it to the reception desk, so he rang down and asked them to let him know when it arrived. Then he took a shower and dressed in joggers and a fresh T-shirt.

Settling onto the bed, he flicked through the films and shows available on the TV, but nothing held his interest enough to watch it. He turned it off again and threw the remote onto the bottom of the bed. Just as he was about to go out of his mind, his room phone rang. When they said their food was there, he sprang up from the bed, slid on his trainers and left his room. He thanked the receptionist and carried the food back up. Maybe he’d gone a little overboard, but he didn’t care.

Taking a deep breath, he knocked on Kole’s door, exhaling in a rush when Kole yelled for him to hang on. At least the man was true to his word, and from those few words, Beck relaxed at the calmer tone he had.

Kole opened the door, wearing similar clothes to Beck but with droplets of water soaking into the material, and waved him in. “Sorry, I was just finishing in the shower.”

Beck ignored the wet material as much as he could. “No problem.” He held up the food bags. “Dinner awaits.”

Kole grinned and stepped back from the door, gesturing for Beck to follow. “I’m surprisingly hungry.”

“Stress can do that to a person,” Beck replied and then felt shitty for bringing up the elephant in the room. “I got Chinese, but I wasn’t sure what you’d like, so I ordered a load of stuff. Don’t worry, though. Whatever doesn’t get eaten, we’ll take home tomorrow.”

“You didn’t have to go to any trouble.”

Beck chuckled. “The only trouble was picking up the phone and ordering my favourite food.” He placed the bag on the small circular table in the corner of the room by the window. “Do you have a favourite?” he asked as he pulled the plastic containers from the bags.

“Not really. Though I suppose I tend to choose noodle options over rice.”

Beck grinned. “Well, it just so happens…” He pointed to the containers in order. “We have chicken chow mein, vegetable lo mein and Singapore noodles. Do any of those sound good?”

“I wouldn’t say no to vegetable lo mein.”

Beck handed it over. “Knock yourself out.”

Kole took it and settled into a chair at the table, tucking one leg beneath him as he sat. Beck handed him a bottle of water from the fridge and sat opposite him before freezing and clearing his throat.

“Um, is it okay if I stay to eat? I can go back to my room?” he said.

Kole smiled, his cheeks bulging, before he covered his mouth with his hand. “It’s fine,” he mumbled.

Beck relaxed and dug into his beef in black bean sauce. Silence descended, but it wasn’t fraught with tension like he might’ve assumed it would be between them. After all, they didn’t know each other that well. If he’d been the type of person to pry, he would’ve asked questions Kole probably wouldn’t want to answer, but Beck understood the need to keep quiet. To let things lie. To figure it out on his own.

“Is tomorrow going to be the same as today?” Kole broke the silence after taking a sip of water.

Beck nodded, chewing and swallowing his mouthful before answering. “Yep. Everything will happen the same. There might be a few more people than today because some people work Saturdays, but some might be repeat people who bought a weekend ticket.”

“Is there a limit to how many people can attend?”

“Yeah, but I think it’s a fairly high number due to the size of the place. And people don’t always stay all day, so there will be some leaving and some entering at different times. I don’t know the figures personally, but that’s just what I’ve seen over the years.”

“How long have you been doing this event?” Kole forked more noodles into his mouth, chewing slowly.

Beck blew out a breath and propped his chin on his fist, his elbow on the table while he figured it out. “Six years? Or is it seven years? Six or seven.” He shrugged. “Not to toot our own horn to borrow Finn’s phrase, but we’re one of the best in the country, if not further afield, so having us there makes the event bigger.”

“You all deserve the praise you receive. It’s hard-earned and right. You all work damn hard, from what I’ve seen. And I’m not just talking about this event. I’ve rarely seen the shop empty when I’ve visited.”

Warmth flowed through him at Kole’s words, and he ducked his head, focusing on his food. “We have worked extremely hard to get where we are, but if it wasn’t for Joey…”

Kole smiled. “He seems the type to befriend someone and never let them go.”

Beck laughed, covering his mouth when his food threatened to fly across the table. Kole chuckled and handed him a napkin, which he held to his mouth.

“Sorry,” Kole said, his cheeks flushing.

He cleared his throat and waved his hand. “It’s okay. You were right on the nose with that description.” He wiped his hands on the napkin, sitting back in his chair. “People flock to Joey. There’s something about him that’s so…” He shook his head. “I can’t describe it, but he’s so good with people, and they remember that. It forges a bond, and when they return, it deepens. And so on. People can’t help it because he’s Joey.” He sighed. “As for us, we kind of fell into it. Helped out here and there and then never left. Though I fully expect Finn to go his own way at some point.”

“Why’s that?”

“He’s more of a loner, really. He puts up with us, but he’s happy to stay behind the scenes. He’d be ecstatic if we told him he could hide out in his room all day and night and we’d just send people in to him.” He chuckled. “He prefers his own company most of the time, though he makes allowances for us now.”

“I can see why. You are all such good people.”

Beck preened a little at the praise but ignored it and took another mouthful. They descended into silence again until they finished their food. With plenty left, Beck stacked the containers back into the bags and stood.

“I’ll leave you in peace now.” He picked up the bags and headed for the door, pausing with his hand on the handle. He tilted his head to the side but didn’t look at Kole. “If you need anything at all, please let me know. I’m not…new to this…these feelings, though I don’t advertise it. Please let me help if you need it.”

Kole remained silent for a long moment, and Beck opened the door, believing he wasn’t going to respond. As he pulled the door closed, Kole said, “I promise I will tell you if I need anything.”

The relief that filled him made him lightheaded, and he leaned against the wall for a second before heading back to his room. He couldn’t help but remember Elliott, Joey’s best friend. The man had been in pain, and no one had seen it because he’d hid it. And the result had been the man taking his own life. After the police had implied why, Beck had wanted to help Joey with his pain, but his own had come back in full force, and he’d spent several days talking with his therapist before he could face anyone. He could’ve been where Elliott had been. It could’ve been him who’d decided he couldn’t take it anymore. One more step in that direction, and he would’ve never met the Life in Ink crew.

He shook his head as he went through his nighttime routine and climbed into bed. It was so hard to understand that all it took was a step in the wrong or right direction and two people went on completely different paths, even in the same originating situation.

Sliding his hand behind his head, he stared up at the dark ceiling, hoping Kole would listen to him and call him if he needed help. Maybe if Elliott had been given that opportunity, he would’ve still been there, but no point in thinking what-ifs. It would drive a man crazy.

Several hours later, he was back at his station at the event, ready to ignore a cramping hand when the tattooing became too much for it. He studied his friends and grinned at Ethan’s exuberant hand, gesturing as he spoke with Kole. The latter looked ready and willing to get to work, his hand fiddling with the pencil on his table while he spoke with Ethan. He laughed, throwing his head back, and Beck followed the long line of his neck, lingering on the man’s lips before jerking his gaze away.

Fucking hell, Beck. Get a grip.

Beck closed his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest, taking a few deep breaths to get rid of the images wanting to encroach on his mind.

“You okay, man?” Dallas asked, clapping his hand on Beck’s shoulder and making him jump.

He snapped open his eyes and nodded. “Yep, all good. I love being here, but I’m knackered already.” He chuckled, trying to cover for his inappropriate thoughts.

“Yeah, I get that. We’re going to break the record, though, man. I can feel it in my bones.” Dallas’s voice took on a pirate-esque tone, and Beck had to laugh.

“You’re a dork.”

“I wholeheartedly accept that description.”

“Calling all tattoo artists. Please be advised, the doors will be opening in five minutes,” the announcer said.

Dallas called everyone over and held his hand flat. “Let’s do this!”

Everyone rested their hands on top of Dallas’s and echoed his sentiment, throwing their hands into the air, and then they dispersed to their relevant positions. Ethan and Ani manned the front desk, so to speak. Kole settled at his table with paper and a pencil. And the tattoo artists stood beside their chairs and equipment. Each of them—even Finn—vibrated with excitement. As Joey had mentioned before, they didn’t need the exposure the event gave them, but it never hurt to keep their company in people’s minds. After all, their rise to fame thanks to some celebrities could easily come crumbling down around their ears, just as much as a celebrity’s fame could. Nothing was set in stone, so they needed to ride the wave as far and as fast as they could, making sure their foundation was secure in case something happened.

Being able to travel to reach customers was a bonus, and something Beck enjoyed. Visiting new places and old kept things interesting, but he especially liked Paris. Annabelle was one of their Paris customers, and though they had others living there, she was his favourite. She was so carefree and easygoing that he often wished he could be her. Seemingly not having a care in the world. He was sure she did, but she could cope or ignore them in favour of living her life. Beck could only hope to get to that place eventually.

As the day wore on, his gaze found Kole more and more often, so he saw when the guy had done enough. He caught Ethan’s attention and gestured to Kole. Ethan glanced at Kole and then back at Beck before nodding and mouthing, “Thank you.” Ethan headed over to the man, and they disappeared, leaving Beck to go back to cleaning his equipment in the brief break he had.

Near the end, several reporters turned up, wanting to cover the last moments of the event, and one came over to Beck.

“How has it been for you?” the reporter, Jack, asked.

Beck grinned at the camera. “It’s been an amazing experience, as always. Customers have been fantastic, the atmosphere unmeasurable, and I can’t wait to do it again next year.”

After a few more questions, Jack moved on, and Beck focused on his last customer.

“What’s the final score, Ani?” Joey asked when the event had closed and they packed away.

“Do you want to tell them, Ethan?” Ani raised her eyebrows.

“No, you do it.”

“I really think you should,” Ani said, nudging Ethan’s shoulder.

“But you’ve done this before. It should—”

“I don’t care who tells us, but please tell us!” Dallas said, throwing his hands in the air.

Ani and Ethan laughed, and Beck realised they’d done it on purpose.

“Sixty-one,” they said in unison.

Beck, Joey and Dallas roared at the ceiling, waving their hands in the air. They’d done it. They’d fucking beat their record. Beck bounded over to Kole and tugged him into a hug. Kole laughed in his ear and returned the gesture.

“Congrats.”

“Thanks.” Beck pulled back and stared at him. Then, when he should’ve pulled back, he continued staring, mesmerised by the different shades of brown flecks in his eyes. But then he came to his senses and stepped back, gaze on the floor.

He couldn’t have Kole. It wasn’t fair to the man to deal with Beck’s issues and everything he was dealing with himself. And, for once, he hated the idea of pretending to be something he wasn’t. He didn’t want to do that with Kole, and he would have to if he went that route.

No, he was better alone.

Chapter 4