Heath Ledger, the Brothers Fiennes
"Hello, Heath." Ralph regards the young man on his doorstep with the politely impersonal smile of a bank teller.
Blinking back, finger poised over the door bell button, Heath slowly smiles. "Uh, hey... guess you saw me coming?"
"Saw you coming?" Small ironic chuckle from Ralph. "That's not entirely accurate, no." He steps back, gestures Heath inside.
Heath lifts an eyebrow, steps past Ralph and looks around for Joseph. He half expects to see him in the kitchen doing Ralph's bidding, or setting the table. Either way he wants to say hello and goes in search of his friend, peering around various doorways. "Joseph?"
"Hi Heath!" Joseph, dressed in an apron and nothing else, continues stirring his simmering beef tips long enough to afford Heath a peek at his bare backside, then swings about to greet him with a hug. "Here," he says, plucking one from the skillet and poking it into Heath's mouth. "It's a new recipe, I've been watching the Food Network since I was grounded...uh...for the last few days."
Nibbling on the offering, Heath grins and peers over Joseph's shoulder at the rest of the food he's preparing. "Mm, tastes delicious! You're quite the chef, aren't you?" He takes the opportunity to reach around and pinch Joseph's naked arse, chuckling at the rather girly squeal that comes from his friend's mouth.
"Not really, I'm too busy to put much time into cooking." Joseph uncovers parmesan potatoes, gives a quick stir to each pot of steaming vegetables, removes a loaf of garlic bread from the broiler of the top oven and slides a fresh cherry pie aside to make counter space for it. "It's just a hobby." A soft ding sounds. "Oh! My quiche!" He swats Heath aside with a potholder and bends into the lower oven.
Heath chuckles and steps back to give him room. It smells delicious and he can't disguise his rumbling stomach as it awaits the first taste of the meal, but it will have to be patient. He glances toward the door before asking the next pressing question. "How's it been with Ralph?"
"Wonderful." Joseph cocks his head, surprised at the answer himself. "He's been in a good mood, Heath. He hasn't yelled at me all week and I'm groun...I've been around the house, a lot. He didn't make me fuck the hairy guy, and he bought me this apron after the bacon frying incident the other morning, he's been so sweet." Joseph empties veggies into serving bowls and balances them, adding a shrimp salad and crabcake platter from the refrigerator and heading for the dining room, nodding for Heath to pick up what he can and follow. "And he's been very excited about your coming to dinner, too," he whispers, tipping a wink over his shoulder.
"Yeah?" Heath listens with a constant grin on his face, thrilled that Joseph is happy and that he's not getting any stick from Ralph. He gathers up the last of the plates and follows Joseph through to the dining room where Ralph is waiting. Heath glances over at him and lifts an eyebrow. "Really?"
Ralph is already seated at the head of the table with an uncorked bottle of wine, when the absurdly large homemade banquet is spread before him. "Will this wine suffice, Joseph, or have you some grapes you've stomped personally?"
This is as close as Ralph is likely to come to acknowledging the massive culinary effort and Joseph beams, reaching for Ralph's plate to begin filling it.
"Wait." Ralph smiles warmly at Joseph, pats his cheek, pours the wine. "I'd like a word with our guest before dinner, if you've no objection."
Joseph looks uncertain. "The quiche..."
"The quiche will wait." When Heath's glass is filled, Ralph sits back and regards him evenly. "So. Heath. I understand you feel that I bully...rather...what was the phrase?...boss around my brother to an excess?"
Joseph's first mouthful of wine sprays Heath head to chest.
He doesn't need to look across the table at Joseph to know that the man is surprised. The sticky droplets that drip from the ends of Heath's hair and into his lap tell the story perfectly. He doesn't bother trying to guess how Ralph found out, that's not important. "Yes I do. Care to explain the actual dynamic that I'm seeing here, then?"
That steely glint flashes again, disappears. Ralph sips his wine. "Certainly, Heath. Being Joseph's friend and having known him for several days now, you are absolutely entitled to overstep the single boundary I laid down for you regarding personal questions and ask that I justify myself to you." He sets the glass on the table, fingers the rim, smiles at Heath. "Where to begin. Ah. I know. I'll begin by telling you that Joseph never knew our father, and our mother passed when he was eleven, I was eighteen, there's a good place to begin. Her last request was that I look after him, not let him fall into the foster care system. This, I did." Ralph turns to Joseph. "Correct, so far, Joseph?"
"Ralph, this quiche..."
"Correct, so far." Ralph nods, turns back toward Heath. "We were left nothing but debt, and I had no skills to support myself, let alone my brother, but I developed them." Ralph gestures broadly about the room. "I believe I developed skills to support him extraordinarily well, wouldn't you agree?" This question directed not at Joseph but at Heath.
Following his gaze around the room and finally settling back on him, Heath nods in agreement with Ralph. "Well yeah, you've done very well for yourselves, but Joseph almost seems afraid of you. Any clue as to why that would be?"
"Afraid? Does he, now?" Light laughter from Ralph now and a wave of his hand. "If that's the case, yes, I imagine I could shed some light, but, first things first, we'll get there. We have not done very well for ourselves, Heath. I have done very well for ourselves. From Joseph, I ask two things." Ralph taps his index finger. "That he stay out of situations which might cause us legal problems or otherwise endanger the low profile I've managed to maintain. You haven't witnessed him involving himself in any such situations, of course?" Small pause to make Heath knows what he knows, then Ralph taps a second finger. "Two, that he be here to assist me on the very rare occasion that I require his assistance. Do these things strike you as unreasonable?"
"Well no, of course not, but it just seems that you're taking advantage of the situation. Perhaps those things are slightly unreasonable," Heath frowns as his stomach rumbles again, the layout of food a horrible temptation and one he longs to give in to. "No one should ever be made to have sex with someone as payment unless they want to."
"Made to have sex?" Ralph turns again just in time to catch a glimpse of Joseph vigorously shaking his head and waving both hands at Heath.
Joseph stops shaking and waving. "Ralph, dinner is going to be ruined. Why don't we ju..."
"Shhhh." Ralph's finger presses gently to Joseph's lips. "Our guest has brought up some very interesting points, Joseph, how rude it would be for me to not address them. You're quite right, Heath. Nobody should be made to have sex. Nobody should be made to support their 35-year-old sibling. Fortunately, neither of those scenarios are the case, here. I am content to support Joseph, because I entered into an agreement to support him. And Joseph, likewise, is content to have relations, including relations of a sexual nature, with partners of my choosing, because he entered into an agreement to have relations with partners of my choosing. This would include partners of my choosing whom Joseph considers distasteful, even disgusting, at first glance, like say...oh, for instance...like he considered you, Heath."
Joseph's mouth has opened to speak and Ralph shushes him this time without a glance, only a slice of his palm through the air between them. "We have a problem, Heath. I'm a logical man, and logic dictates that any problem can be resolved by assigning values to it's components. The only relevant component here is time. My time, your time, Joseph's time, interaction conflicts involving the three." Ralph draws a small calculator from his pocket and sets it on his dinner plate. "If you've no further observations to offer regarding my treatment of my brother, I propose that we begin assigning values so that we may correct our problem..." His smile fades only slightly, but meaningfully. "...while it's still a relatively simple problem to correct."
Heath looks from Ralph to Joseph and back again, weighing out Ralph's words in his head. Half of what he said went right over his head. Not because he didn't understand it, but because Heath's head just didn't happen to be in the right frame of mind for interpreting philosophical discussions about this and that. He'd certainly understood it when Ralph had pointed out that Joseph hadn't liked him when Ralph had first called him over in the bar, and yet now they were calling each other friend. With a resigned sigh he looks down at his empty plate waiting to be filled. "Let's eat."
Nodding, Joseph reaches again for the serving spoon.
"Joseph informs me that you earn an average of forty dollars per day." Ralph begins tapping the calculator keys, pauses to swat Joseph's hand, continues tapping. "I won't ask how one manages to survive in Los Angeles on forty dollars a day because, you see, Heath, I do not concern myself with things which are not my business." Tappity-tap. "That would put you in the range of fourteen thousand-six hundred per year. All right then." Tappity-tap. "I estimate that I earned approximately ninety-five million last year. That is roughly..." Tappity-tappity-tap. "...six thousand-five hundred-seven times your earnings. Now. Joseph..." Tappity-tappity...
Listening only with one ear, Heath's stomach rumbles again and he coughs, trying to get Ralph's attention back to the food. "Ralph, dinner is getting cold, and unless you want to upset Joseph I suggest we eat now." He looks across at Joseph and sinks a little further down in his chair so he can nudge his friend's foot gently for reassurance. Poor guy.
"Joseph, through his petty larcenies and con games, earned somewhere in the neighborhood of eleven thousand, that he admits to. Of course, I haven't been digging in the garden or pulling up sub-flooring lately, but for the sake of argument, we'll leave it at eleven thousand." Ralph continues. If he heard Heath speak, he shows no sign of it. "Now, deducting from that the approximate one hundred-forty three thousand that I paid out in bail, bribes, and restitution as a result of Joseph's petty larcenies and con games..." Tappity-tappity-tappity-tap. "...Joseph is indebted to me by one hundred-thirty three thousand dollars. Even if I credit him with that amount, for the small effort he's expended toward my own enterprises, which is frankly ludicrous, this brings Joseph's earnings to zero." Ralph's eyes finally cut upward and fix on Heath. "In summation, Heath, my time has six-thousand-seven times the value of yours. Joseph's time is irrelevant to this equation, it can't even be measured against yours, because forty times nothing is still nothing."
"Ralph. Shut up." Heath's eyes are blazing, his voice hard as he glares at the man. He's hungry, he's fed up with listening to Ralph go on and on about silly insignificant things - to him anyway - and he's royally pissed at how easily Ralph can just insult his brother.
Ralph's expression is one part stunned disbelief, three parts regret. Try to be reasonable, try to explain your position without losing your temper, this is the thanks you get, says that expression. "Joseph, pack up a doggie bag for your friend, then get him the fuck out of my house and out of my sight." He slides back from the table and strides through the door to the cavernous playroom without looking back. "You'll be missing your own dinner tonight. Three minutes. I'll be waiting."
Joseph's forlorn gaze follows Ralph's retreat, then sweeps the untouched dinner table, finally lighting helplessly on Heath. "I'll get a tupperware bowl," he says, standing and padding miserably toward the kitchen.
Heath has other ideas. He'll be damned if he's going to let Joseph suffer for something he didn't do. As soon as his friend goes into the kitchen, Heath pushes back his chair and follows, trapping Joseph between the counter and his own body. "Come out with me. I didn't mean for any of this to happen, he was just annoying the hell out of me," he tries to explain. "I like you a lot, don't want to you see you upset."
Joseph's head is shaking after the first four words. "If I leave with you now, I won't ever be able to come back." He pushes Heath away, wipes his eyes and adjusts his apron, then turns his bare ass toward Heath and begins rooting for a container. Finds one. Slams it to the floor and spins back on Heath. "If you liked me, you wouldn't have done that, why did you do that, Heath?"
"Because I like you!" Heath counters back, eyes swimming with worry and guilt. "Your arse of a brother is very strict, regardless of the details. He shouldn't fuck your dinner up just because I told him to shut up. It makes you unhappy and that makes me unhappy." He sighs, reaches up and brushes a thumbpad across Joseph's cheek.
"You don't understand. He's not just my brother, you don't understand." Joseph leans into Heath's hand for a moment, then slaps it away. "If you'd have just kept your mouth shut and acted like whatever he was talking about made sense to you then we could have both told him we were sorry and it would probably all be over by now and we'd be having dinner and maybe he'd have even let me fuck you afterward but now he's never going to let me see you again, now..." The rest of the thought dissolves into a thin wail of breathless frustration. Joseph toes the container toward Heath. Fumbles free of the apron and slouches naked out of the kitchen. "Now, I have to go. Just take whatever you want to eat, I have to go."
Heath doesn't turn to watch him leave. He can't bring himself to watch that sexy arse shuffle away in utter misery. He feels rotten, really rotten, and so damned fucked up for hurting Joseph just by defending his honour and telling Ralph to shut up. Heath has an opinion, and he likes Joseph a lot. Okay, so he can't truly understand Joseph's relationship with his brother, but at least he can try and fix the mess he's just made, and for that he needs Ralph. Leaving the kitchen, Heath goes in search of him, heading to the playroom first. Ralph had gone that way when he left.
"If you're suggesting that I tolerate being criticized, let alone told to shut up, in my own home, the opinion isn't worth the breath you've expended to express it." Ralph's voice wafts from the playroom. "Corner."
Joseph's voice is still deferential, but not nearly as much so as it had been in Heath's presence. "I just don't see why you had to go into all that before dinner, Ralph. He was hungry, couldn't you have at least waited until after dinner before you started in on him?"
"Nose to the wall. And, in the words of your departed friend, Joseph, shut up."
"Correction. Not quite departed just yet." Before Ralph has time to stop him, Heath strides across the room and stops just in front of him, taking careful note of the man's fuming expression. And if it will help any more, Heath gets to his knees. "Please, Sir, I wish to talk to you in private."
Ralph stares at the kneeling intruder briefly, then sidesteps him and marches to Joseph. "I'm not certain which part of 'get him out of my house' was unclear to you."
Heath leaps up and gets between the two bodies, looking Ralph in the eye. It's a miracle he keeps his emotions under control at this point, though he reminds himself again that it's for Joseph. "He obeyed your orders right down to the last word," he tells Ralph firmly. "He's done absolutely nothing wrong at all today so don't punish him for being good."
Ralph steps around Heath again, this time showing them both his back. "Your friend, who has now officially achieved trespasser status, seems to either not comprehend or simply not care that he has just extended your stay in that position against that wall through breakfast tomorrow and is perhaps now going to try for lunch." He turns and crosses his arms, still speaking to Joseph, not Heath. "Of course, if you agree that my treatment of you is so abominable, Joseph, a single word will emancipate you. One word, and you are free to skip happily from my tyrannical grasp into a carefree life of poverty with your friend, and with my blessing."
Joseph's kneeling body squirms in an agony of indecision. Finally, nasally because his nose is now mashed against the wall, he mumbles, "Go away, Heath."
Ralph nods, satisfied, and at last addresses Heath directly. "For everything, there's a price, Heath. Sometimes, someone else has to pay that price. For Joseph's game of hooky with you, the other day, I paid the price. For your lack of respect toward your host this evening, he'll pay it. You're not mine to punish. He is." Ralph leans against the wall beside Joseph, strokes the bowed head with a proprietary hand. "Good night, Heath."
Hands clenching at his sides, Heath knows that's it. Anymore from him and the punishment for Joseph will only get worse, and that's the last thing Heath wants to see. Eyes remaining on his friend, he takes one step closer to kiss Joseph's cheek, but bites his lip and pulls back at the last second and turns away for good. If he did that there's no telling what Ralph would do. Heath stalks out of the room and back into the kitchen, packing himself a small helping of dinner. Even if it is mostly cold, Heath wants to taste it. Joseph's cooking had looked and smelt delicious, and perhaps if did see that Heath had taken some, he would be a little happier.
At the faint sound of Ralph's door closing, Joseph's chest hitches. "You're jealous," he stammers. "You're jealous because he was my friend."
This sends a flare of anger through Ralph. Irrationally so. He draws back one foot and gains control of himself just short of dealing a crippling kick to his brother's ass, instead snatching his head upright by the hair. "Your friend, I notice, made no offer to mitigate your punishment by sharing it."
Joseph's warm golden eyes hold Ralph's icy green ones until the hand in his hair pushes his face ungently back into place against the wall. "You wouldn't have let him do that. You'd have just gone on lecturing him about money and this has nothing to do with money, you're jea..."
"Everything has to do with money and I am not jealous. You're now holding position through tomorrow afternoon. Shall we continue this debate, go for double-or-nothing?"
Joseph shakes his head minutely. He wouldn't care for that.
Expression softening, Ralph extends his hand again toward Joseph, but draws back just shy of contact. "Goodnight, little brother."
He doesn't have any respect for me, Joseph thinks, when he's left alone to think such thoughts. He loves me and he takes care of me and I don't even mind that he does things like this to me when I've done nothing to deserve them, but I mind very much that he doesn't respect me, especially in front of my friends... Joseph's eyes close miserably when he remembers that, with the departure of Heath, his friends-quotient has returned to zero. To nothing. Nothing, just like his own value, according to his brother.
Everything IS about money, for Ralph. Joseph's eyes flicker open and cross on the wall a nose length away. If I want him to respect me, then I have to find a way to make money. Lots of money. This thought fixes dangerously in Joseph's mind and follows him into sleep.
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