Word count: 2,670
Drink of Choice: London’s Dry Gin. No explanation needed, really.
Rating: FRT (I think)
Summary: Sequel to ‘99 Bottles’. What use is trying when you can’t trust?
Dedication/Challenge/Prompt: Prompt #33. Giles/Ethan or Giles and Ethan, bickering old men and still dangerous.
Title: Hard Liquor
Why the hell does it always come to this?
He returned Ethan’s glare over the rim of his own glass, unflinching, as his other hand flexed itself into a fist. That alone would have, once, been enough to unnerve the other man. But he’d seen far too much of his temper in the past to be frightened by something so small today.
He tried to control the tremble in his hand, as he poured himself a fresh glass, which he knew wasn’t doing his current mood any good what-so-ever.
And Ethan snatched up the bottle and took a couple of mouthfuls out of that directly, in an attempt at placating himself.
He slammed the whiskey bottle back down on top of the piano set up against the far wall of the sitting room, with a force that made Giles wince.
“So what the fuck was it that you were accusing me of, this time?” the sorcerer snarled at him, face twisting into an ugly expression, “I believe that if you’ve already made up your mind to hang me as a lamb for a bloody wolf then at the very least I damn well deserve to fucking know what it is I’m meant to have done.”
~-~Several Hours Earlier~-~
As he read over the article in the paper, he could feel the wave that he’d been riding on for the last three months destroying itself on the jagged rock of an unfriendly shore.
Admittedly the last three months hadn’t been perfect, but at least he and Ethan weren’t yet at one another’s throats, and ready to kill, as they had been so often in the past.
After that night when they’d got pissed in the bar, and gone back to his together, the other had been careful not to mention where he’d been staying, or to voice any desire to return to wherever it was. And nor had he mentioned what exactly he’d been up to in the last seven years.
Giles, for his part in the matter, had done his best to not notice that the other still hadn’t left, after what he’d initially assumed would be a one-night stand, like so many of the other times that they’d met in the past.
But now, it looked as though the honeymoon period was well and truly done and dusted.
Reading over the article again, he forced the sick feeling that was slowly creeping up back down to where it should have been, and fished out the bottle of whiskey that he kept tucked away in the back of his filing cabinet in order to pour himself a strong one.
Which, admittedly probably wasn’t the best way that he could have though of, in which to react. But if he didn’t do something to keep himself occupied until a time when he could rationally go back home and hit Ethan up about this… again, his gaze dropped ‘three children missing in storm two nights ago… no trace… as though vanished into thin air…’
Two nights ago was the first night since his… moving in… that he hadn’t been there. And, at that time, he hadn’t though anything of it. Ethan, was after all, his own person – a full-grown man. One who had his own life to live, and his own shit to sort out.
What was more chaos-appropriate than a storm?
‘Larconis eats babies…’
He’d said he hadn’t known what the tribute was. But he wasn’t fool enough to believe that the other would be so stupid. He knew his Latin well enough, knew that ‘larconis’ was a lose translation of the Latin for glutton. Knew that the tribute being collected was for a demon. And this had the same stench to it that all of that had had.
Half an hour later he had to keep track of where he was on the page that he was attempting to read via where his finger was resting. The only disadvantage to this method, he though, as he took a drag from the mouth of the bottle, was that whenever he went back for another drink he had to start over.
A half-hour after that, he’d given it up and signed out for the day. Clarisa, at the front desk looked for a few seconds, as though she were going to say something but his attitude and the expression that he knew his face bore made him hard to approach, which was really just as well.
The fifteen-minute drive back to his home seemed to take forever, and yet it was over far too quickly. The paper that had gotten him into this state was in an increasingly white-knuckled grip. And the bottle of whiskey was standing between the seats, which probably wouldn’t look particularly good if he were to be pulled over.
A smile which was more than a little bitter spread slowly, at the thought of that conversation; sorry I’ve been drinking and driving, officer. I’ve reason to suspect that my b… (And even in his thoughts he found that he had to cut that word) …friend was involved in the incident with the missing children the other day. Won’t touch any more until I’m home and yelling at him. Promise.
And wouldn’t that be the perfect way to end a brilliant bloody day, too, being taken into Police custody? Of course the Watcher’s Council still had some influence about the place, so it may not actually be as bad as that.
He found himself wondering what the hell he’d been doing, letting this carry on for the three damned months. What he’d been thinking. Or whether he had been thinking at all.
Should have figured that it couldn’t last.
He pulled into the carport, and nursed back another mouthful of the drink, before getting out of the car and walking up to the door, the hand that was still grasping the paper, now curled around the bottle as well.
Maybe he’ll be gone already. Bound to know that the storm's comming...
That was the best thing he felt that he could hope for.
With a slight clench in his chest, which he tried to tell himself didn’t mean a thing; he turned the key and opened the door.
Of course he wasn’t gone though. Ethan had always pushed his luck and there was no reason to think that this time would be any different. When they’d been younger and living rough, it had been one of traits that he’d loved about the other. These days, it was one of those ones that never failed to piss him off, amongst a myriad number of others.
The little things, on opening the door, were what spoke to him, screamed at him. Said Ethan to him. The scent of an after-shave that he’d never even have considered buying, let alone wearing – overpriced, overpowering, and overly flashy. Shampoo and soap – thyme and jasmine.
And he steeled himself, as the other emerged in the doorway of the kitchen.
“Ah. You’re home early.”
He felt himself becoming guarded, as the laid-back hint of smile on Ethan’s face faltered and died under scrutiny.
“Yes. I am. And you’re still here, I see.”
Head tilted slightly to one side, “How very observant,” eyes dropped to the bottle and the paper, curled in right fist, leaving the stronger left hand free, and the neutral expression became a pronounced frown, “And you started drinking at work.”
He pushed past him, headed into the kitchen and grabbed a clean glass off the draining board, even as he wondered why he was bothering.
A half-peeled potato, and a decent looking piece of steak were testament to what Ethan had been up to.
Ethan turned, following him with his gaze, and then physically out into the sitting room, as he poured himself a generous measure into the glass. And again it was he who broke the silence.
“So. Why did you? Or are we playing Twenty Questions again?”
Prickly. Defensive. Of course he ought to be able to work it out. Ought to have figured that he’d get caught with his hands an unattractive shade of scarlet.
“Don’ suppose you’d like to fathom a guess, my slippery old friend?”
Tone even, even though his emotions were in turmoil. He’d always had the upper hand here. Had mastered the art of self-control where the other wouldn’t even try.
And even though he was already a few inches south of mildly intoxicated, he knocked back his new glass in one smooth movement. It hit his stomach, and he clamped down on his anger again, as the other narrowed his eyes at him.
He returned Ethan’s glare over the rim of his own glass, unflinching, as his other hand flexed itself into a fist.
“A lamb for a wolf?” He threw the paper at him, with as much force behind it as he could get, “Don’t try to pretend you don’t fucking know.”
Ethan unfolded the paper, and looked at the headlines. His expression became instantly unreadable, as he grabbed at the once-again free bottle, and threw back a couple of decent slugs.
He looked up again, re-folded the paper and put it down on top of the piano, beside the whiskey bottle which he returned to place, too.
He’d always prided himself on his skill at reading Ethan, but he’d never seen that look in the other’s eyes before, either, so he had nothing to measure it against.
“Shows exactly what you think of me, doesn’t it. Always thought the worst of me, and I see nothing’s changed. Self-righteous bloody wanker. I’d thought things were different this go-around.”
This time he limited himself to a sip, “I’d thought things different, too, this time. But… I know who you are, and I know what you’re capable of, even though, in opposition to my common sense, I seem to make an effort to forget every now and then. If I think the worst of you then it’s because you’ve given me every reason to do so, and no reason not to.”
Even though the tone of things seemed to be lowering back towards conversational, all that it would need was the tiniest of sparks to re-ignite and burst into a great, blazing row, and it wouldn’t be the first time that one of Ethan’s stays had ended in a hospital visit, either.
He was more dangerous when he was hitting the whiskey than he was any other time, Ethan knew that from experience. Which was why he was doing what he could to minimize that danger. He wasn’t particularly fond of physical injury, especially when…
Ah, but no matter. He had one shot at this, and he knew it.
“Then tell me. Thursday night, where the hell were you?” Ripper’s words came out a short growl.
Talk fast, “I… I was in Ambery, it’s true, but…,” a few steps back, circling towards the door in case he had to run for it, as Ripper rose, rage burning in his eyes, “not for what you’re thinking, I swear. I…I”
As Ripper closed in, “And tell me that you weren’t involved in this. Go ahead, say it.”
“I won’t; I was, but…” fell back as he lunged, managed to catch the fist that flew towards his face, a feat that he’d surely never have managed if the other weren’t already intoxicated. “…I was on the other side of things!”
And Ripper froze, seconds away from loosening a second punch, one that he wouldn’t have stood a chance of catching, or avoiding. One which would have likely loosened a few teeth for good measure.
“What?” Incredulous. Disbelieving.
“I’m telling you that it would have been a hell of a lot worse than it was if I wasn’t there.”
“And you expect me to take you at your word for this? Why would you stick your neck out for anyone other than yourself?”
“Because…,” he dropped his gaze from his old friends accusatory green, “…look, why can’t you just believe me this once?”
He didn’t move. Kept Ethan pinned beneath his full weight, letting that alone carry the message. The threat.
He pressed the matter, not prepared to let it slide.
Because I knew what I stood to lose this time. Of course he wouldn’t put it quite like that.
“Because … because for once I’m comfortable here, alright. I still have my contacts, I… I wouldn’t take a job like this, not any more. I knew what it would do to there being any remaining chance of us. Because for once in the whole tangled fuck-up of our history I was beginning to feel as though you were starting to trust me again, however fragile, however delicate that trust was. And if you still don’t believe me… then you can bloody well read my magick.”
This last was said as a statement of fact, rather than the invitation that it once would have been.
Read my magick…
The fact that he’d even said it meant that he had to be certain of himself, of what would be found. Or maybe he was relying on Rupert’s logical thinking to make that point, which would mean that he’d never actually meant for the invitation to be accepted.
A tiny bit of him may very well want to trust him, but that didn’t mean that he actually did.
And Ethan shifted, trying to mauver himself out from under the bigger man’s weight, reminding him that he was there, “Um, don’t suppose you could…”
Eyes closed. Read my magick was risky, too. If concentration were interrupted, then there was any number of things that it could trigger.
He could feel protective magick, woven recently. Wardings, and barriers. And… a hint of something more deadly, aggressive. Offensive something cast against a creature that wouldn’t come forward. But no… no summonings, of either beast of weather.
Without a word, he pushed himself to his feet, and crossed the room to slump onto the couch, grabbing the whiskey bottle on the way.
Which meant that Ethan was telling the truth.
“Why didn’t you say something?”
“And you’d have believed me, of course, because your faith in me is unwavering.”
“I deserved that.”
Ethan pushed himself to his feet, and crossed his arms, “You won’t catch any arguments from me there.”
Rupert made to pour another mouthful of the liquor down his throat, and Ethan crossed the room smoothly, grabbing it out of his hands, “That’s quite enough of that, thank-you. What you need to be doing is getting yourself off to bed, because come morning you’re going to be feeling like all the kings horses and all the kings men won’t be able to pull you back together again, I’d imagine.”
He rose, unprotesting, and paused in the doorway. Swallowed around the lump in his throat, and forced himself to say that words that left behind such a bittersweet flavour, “I’m sorry.”
And Ethan glanced up from the books that he was already straightening, looking at Rupert as though he’d just shot him. Turned back to his task, unsure of what to say to that. He’d never anticipated hearing an apology directed at him. Especially not from Rupert.
“I’ll just straighten things up a little, then I’ll be up.”
He heard the creak of the stairs, and after a few moments he went back into the kitchen and poured the remnants of the whiskey down the sink.
The bedroom was dark, and Rupert’s eyes were already closed. He undressed without thinking about it, and settled into the other side of the bed, and seconds later a tentative hand grasped his arm.
“I did mean it.”
“I know, I know.”
The hand became an arm reaching over his side.
“You’re… not going anywhere, are you?”
He blew out a sigh.
“No, I wasn’t planning to.”
The next few words surprised him just as much as the apology had.
The final words which ought to have been there went unsaid. But they both knew, anyway.
http://0-ruthless-0.livejournal.com/9325.html - Link to Shallow Past 03