Tanim wished vehemently that his third glass of scotch would numb him to the sensation of eyes roving over his skin, but somehow the light buzz only heightened his awareness that, hunched over the bar alone, he was very much on display. He had already turned down several overtures, some politely and others with poorly veiled contempt. He was in no mood for playful flirtation, nor where such inebriated seduction might be expected to lead. He only wanted to be alone with his misery and his drink tonight, so when he heard footsteps approaching he groaned inwardly and prepared to decline another hopeful courtier.
“Drowning your sorrows in cheap scotch? How poetic.”
The silky voice which cut through Tanim’s bleak thoughts sent a sudden shiver of desire down his spine. He lifted his head in time to watch Daren slide onto the bar stool beside him, and it took every ounce of Tanim’s willpower not to lean in to catch the man’s intoxicating scent. Instead, he hid his delight at the surprise of Daren’s arrival with an expression of mock offense. “Hey, this is Blue Label. I spare no expense when it comes to killing my liver.”
Daren chuckled appreciatively. “Oh? Then you won’t mind wounding mine.” He caught the bartender’s attention and nodded to Tanim’s glass. “I’ll have one of those. On him.” As they waited for Daren’s drink to arrive, Tanim sipped at his own and sought for conversation that would betray neither the fact that he was already just a little bit drunk, nor that he was intensely curious as to why Daren had shown up in the first place. He finally settled on commenting off-handedly, “Never took you for much of a drinker. What brings you here so late?” His companion gave an easy shrug and nodded in gratitude as the bartender delivered his glass of Blue Label. “Just restless, I guess,” he replied once he had tasted the drink. He made a small noise of approval, then took another sip. After a moment he added, “And I had a hunch you’d be here. Didn’t want you to have to drink alone like usual.”
Tanim hoped the heat in his cheeks was just from the alcohol and nothing more.
“You make me sound like a drunkard.”
Daren snorted and flashed him a wicked smirk. “Well, if the–”
“Wasting your money on the bar flies, Tanim?” The voice which cut Daren off positively dripped with smug sarcasm. Light fingers trailed across Tanim’s shoulder as another man several years his junior deposited himself onto the bar stool on his other side. “My feelings are hurt,” the man pouted playfully. “You’ve never so much as offered me a sip.”
Whatever rare contentment the alcohol and Daren’s company had managed to stir within Tanim, cold nausea rapidly replaced as he eyed the newcomer. The man’s golden curls framed his fine boned face like a Greek statue come to life, but Tanim had witnessed their tangled morning mess and knew how long such perfection took to attain. Likewise, that fair face might have stirred more than repulsion in Tanim, as it often had in the past, if its wide lips were not curled into a predatory smirk and its blue eyes sparkling with cruel mischief. Crestfallen by this unexpected turn of events, Tanim’s muddled mind struggled for some scathing retort, but all he managed was one word, dropped like a stone in the awkward vacuum of conversation.
Alexander cocked his head to one side. “You don’t seem very happy to see me, dear.”
Tanim raised his glass to his lips and glanced nervously over to Daren, worried Alexander’s appearance would chase the skittish man away. Daren seemed focused on contemplating his glass of scotch, but his tense posture suggested his complete attention to the conversation at hand. Good; perhaps Tanim could still salvage the situation. With a mind to make sure Daren understood how much he detested Alexander, Tanim shot Alex an irritated glare and muttered, “I’d be happier to see you leave.”
Alexander did not seem to quite get the hint. “But I just got here,” he protested, the same oblivious smirk on his lips. He leaned over the bar counter, his keen gaze switching from Tanim to the silent Daren. “Besides, looks like you’re having a regular party tonight. Who’s your alluring young friend?”
Tanim slammed down his empty glass. “Can’t you go bother some drunk businessman with a loose wallet and looser zipper and leave me alone?” he snapped, too flustered to control his temper. Alexander snickered victoriously; the hostility and embarrassment in Tanim’s voice made the identity of his companion quite clear.
“Ooh, I get it. This is him, isn’t it? The glorious, venerated Daren?” His sharp blue eyes slid over Daren in covetous appraisal. “I suppose we do look quite a bit alike. You have good taste, Tanim.”
Alexander’s mocking pushed Tanim over the edge. A protective, humiliated anger consumed his last bit of patience like dry kindling in a fire. He turned to fully face his ex-lover and growled, “Get out of here, Alex. Now.”
As if Tanim had not even spoken, Alexander continued to focus his attention on Daren. “I suppose I should thank you,” he continued with a thoughtful smile. “If Tanim weren’t so hung up on you, I doubt he’d ever give me the time of day. But as it is, I seem to make a pretty good stand in.” He winked, as if at a private joke the man between them could not share. “Don’t worry, I don’t mind.” But the jibe did not spark the heated response for which Alexander had hoped. Daren shifted his cool, dark gaze to the stranger for a brief moment, then calmly finished his glass of scotch and said nothing. Inwardly perturbed at Daren’s lack of reaction, Alex changed tactics. “I’d give you some tips,” he purred, “but Tanim’s very… eager. I’m sure even an ice prince like you could please him.”
Tanim would never have imagined Daren could move so fast, or be so quick to anger. One moment Daren had been perched on his stool, reacting no more to Alexander’s words than to an annoying fruit fly darting past his face, and in the next he stood between Alexander and Tanim, his cold eyes fixed on the loathsome blond. “I believe Tanim told you to get the fuck out,” he stated in a hard, low voice Tanim had never heard. Alexander only snorted, clearly unimpressed. “Jealous? I’m sure Tanim wouldn’t mind us sharing him–”
Daren’s fist quite effectively silenced Alexander as it smashed into his handsome face. The man collapsed to the floor, clutching both hands to his broken nose as blood streamed between his long fingers. Tanim, unaware that he had leaped to his feet, glanced from Daren to Alexander and back again, mouth agape but no words coming out. For his part, Daren simply stared down dispassionately at Alexander’s writhing body and bloodied face. “You don’t look like me now, do you?” he muttered. Then, without glancing back to his companion, he commanded, “Come on, Tanim,” and wound his way towards the door. Tanim hesitated, watching wide-eyed as Daren turned away from his defeated adversary, then hastily threw down a pile of bills on the counter and hurried to catch up with his champion.