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Coda (Breaking the Unities)

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Joey supposes he should feel impressed to some extent, as Ben Butley - his notorious 'best friend' - managed to hold back for exactly two days and eighteen hours (give or take five minutes) before once again invading the younger man's personal space. But now here he is, even shabbier than before and holding the desk lamp his former office neighbour left behind on purpose.

"You're supposed to be taking better care of your belongings, you know," he smiles cheekily before assuming a mock-professorial tone he is always so fond of abusing, "This is not how I taught you, now, is it, Joseph?"

And in spite of all recent happenings, it remains funny, forcing a cough of laughter from Joey. Yet serious matters are at hand – and so the laughter has to die down.

"I thought you might want to keep it as a souvenir. Besides, with some luck it will survive long enough to prevent you from stealing the lamp belonging to Mr. Gardner once he catches up with you in his... Scholarly profession," he finishes with an elaborate hand movement which doesn't mean anything at all; doesn't even add to the irony Joey made so well-pronounced in the whole sentence, knowing all too well that the other party won't frown at it and might even appreciate his effort in that bizarre way Butley appreciates most things in life.

"The idea of walking in my… Or in fact, your footsteps, is the single thing Edna is more than sure to erase permanently from his plumage-covered head," he retorts presently around his trademark cigarette, setting the lamp on Joey's pristine desk anyway.

"She pried him away from you?" the younger of the two asks, one third humour, two thirds bafflement.

"Easy task, seeing I didn't even take him in," Ben replies with surprising frankness and lack of children ditties to follow. After a while of silent smoking, he decides to elaborate: "His taste in clothes was more pitiful than yours had ever been. Also, no socks, remember?"

"No socks," Joey agrees with a nod.

The young teacher then regards his fellow worker, taking in the whole of that familiar, dishevelled, broken figure and holds back a pained sigh; knowing all too well that the next words to fall from his mouth will sound like a cheap excuse, but needing to utter them just the same.

"Look, Ben, I'm really sorry, but there is an important business I need to attend to, so I'm afraid this is where we must part."

It sounds so artificial and pathetic that even though it's entirely true, Joey can feel his hands sweating as he approaches the frosted glass door. His hands always sweat more when he tells lies, nothing can be done about it at that particular moment.

He isn't really sure how the following events come about. One moment he reaches out to open the door, the next he is violently pushed up against it, clinging to Butley for dear life as they kiss passionately, hungrily, their need pulsating with so much urgency it's a wonder both held back this long; he doesn't know, but he can feel – feel the three-day stubble rubbing against his chin, the moist heat of invading tongue, his own body heating up uncomfortably as it presses against the one belonging to his former teacher-flatmate-lover – and, oh God, why does it always have to be 'former', why hasn't Butley acted up when things could still be changed...?

The moment of blind passion is short-lived; still, they don't part for a while, both a little dizzy with what just happened. But then there's a blurred figure passing behind the frosted glass and the moment's gone for good. Moving away, Ben inquires about the razor, to which Joey casually responds that yes, he can keep it, he doesn’t mind much, and adds, as if in an afterthought, that it should be kept sharp as ever, just to prevent Butley from gushing out metaphors next time he mars his face with a nasty cut while shaving. The only answer he gets to that is Ben's smirk right before the older man leaves.

It comes to Joey gradually, but once the young teacher realizes the full impact of what happened, he has to sit on the chair again and force a curse back down his throat. Unbeknownst to him, Ben Butley has once more made himself a staple in his friend's life; a memory, lingering like the smell of cigarettes, imprinted on the new office which up to this point Joey was somewhat proud to call his own. Well, not any more.

And the worst of it all is that the guilty impulse that prickles at the very bottom of Joey's mind - below the superficial layers of resignation, betrayal and that tiny bit of hopeless rage - is the freshly rekindled thrill of anticipation.