Rating: FR 13/15
Summery: A continuation of last years ‘Comfort’
Ethan lay there in the silence, thought and memory, both bitter and bright, running into one another as the moon rose, then sunk again and the stars grew brighter with the increasing darkness then began to fade as the sun threatened to rise.
He had spent the night alternating between watching Rupert, and watching the night sky out the window, since the curtains had never been pulled last night. He wasn’t surprised at his own inability to sleep, just like he wasn’t surprised by the deep slumber, product of shock, liquor and exhaustion, which Rupert had fallen into.
He was well past tired, and into the realm of overtired. He was also reasonably sure that there was still enough alcohol in his system to drown a fish.
It always made him mawkish, retrospective in a way.
For a few seconds he contemplated work, before deciding that he would be useless there today, so there wasn’t much point in going. Besides, it wasn’t like he’d taken a sick day since he’d started. They couldn’t begrudge him one or two.
Besides, he had to make sure that Rupert got up, even if the man didn’t feel like he had a reason to.
He still wasn’t sure that he’d made the right choice. Come to that, he wasn’t sure that there was a right choice to be salvaged out of this. He may not have been the most moral of people in the world, but he had his own standards, and he didn’t often disregard them.
Rupert had been there first, but he had given the man far more chances than he was entitled to, hadn’t he? Had he? Maybe he should have waited longer, or tried harder. Or maybe it was a moot point. Maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference.
There was no point in denying that he still loved the man, but that was a moot point in itself. That love was something which had to be tempered by the reality of the situation, which was that even if he wasn’t married then Rupert would have probably only stuck around as long as it suited him.
After all, it wasn’t like this was the first time that Rupert had sought him out in their tangled history. He knew how this round played out; had seen it several times before.
Spitting words, and brewing violence, until something snapped; that something, which was more often than not Rupert’s temper.
Besides, he dared not listen to that little voice in his head that told him that this time might have been it, that Rupert hadn’t lost something which would have made the difference as to whether he would have stayed this time. If he listened to that voice then he would start to hate himself again, and down that path madness lay. He was quite well acquainted with that old friend, thank-you very much.
He’d spent too long being told that he was worthless, and far too long hating himself.
Amber had not only put the shattered pieces of him that had been left back together, she had built him up until he felt better about himself than he had long before his incarceration. He hadn’t felt like he’d needed to seek out pain in order to prove that he existed in a long time.
Rupert was the first, the only love that he’d ever had, but Amber was his best friend, in every sense of the word.
She was far from perfect, he would be a fool not to notice that, but she was a lot better than himself, and probably a lot more stable than Rupert.
How many people had truly glimpsed the madness that lay in that green gaze? True, it was a lot better tempered these days than it had been in their youth, but it was still there. He’d seen it, even though it took a lot to bring it out.
He had no idea what sort of person he would have been today without Rupert’s influence. He didn’t really like to think of it, of what he might have been either.
He had spent over half his life seeking out pain, chasing a cold comfort. Did it really make a difference that Rupert had come back into his life again? Did it mean…
His thoughts took a detour, as Rupert rolled over and buried his face into the hollow between his neck and shoulder without waking up, like he’d used to do years ago and Ethan found himself wrestling with a very real desire to kiss him on the top of the head.
He couldn’t let himself, because that was where temptation started. He knew what followed on from that, too.
As the sun rose fully he decided he should at least check to see whether the man sleeping half on top of him was still capable of talking. He knew that it probably would have been better for them both to let him sleep, but some sense of responsibility wouldn’t let him.
With his free hand he nudged at Rupert’s shoulder, and the man responded by sleepily nuzzling into his neck, in that moment between the dreaming world and the waking one, where life wasn’t hurting him.
“Rue?” again he nudged him, and this time the response was a pair of dry, rough lips pressing to his throat, like something out of the old days.
He pulled away as quickly as he could, before Pavlov’s Dog could rise to the bait, and that movement was enough to pull Rupert out of his haze.
For a few moments the expression on Rupert’s face looked normal. He could pinpoint the exact second that the events of yesterday came flooding back to him, followed that dark green gaze as it moved from his face, to the ring on his finger. At that Ethan felt doubly guilty.
He watched as Rupert’s expression hardened and closed off.
“Sorry,” the words were automatic, as Rupert rolled away from him, so that he couldn’t see him any more, “old habits die hard, I suppose.”
“Rupert? Are you…”
“Why didn’t you just let me die in peace?”
Those words felt and sounded a lot more honest. They also sparked a deep sense of panic inside of him. If Rupert honestly felt like that, then staying for a few days wouldn’t prevent him from doing… something.
“I fail to see how you could be so damned selfish.”
The words were delivered as cuttingly as possible, as he tried to provoke a response. Draw out that infamous temper that he knew lay hidden somewhere under this air of defeat. The Rupert’s of the world weren’t meant to give up. Defeat was for people like him, not those that could play tag with the devil and come away unsinged.
“I, on the other hand fail to see where it’s selfish at all. What the hell do I have left to go on for, Ethan? Not you, that’s a given. Not the children. They have their own lives, too. Even Buffy doesn’t need me, not any more. And anyone that I once called a friend is already long-dead. You… you can’t even say that you wouldn’t honestly be glad to be rid of me, can you?”
“Now that’s not true, and you know it. I can’t picture a world without you in it.”
“Well, maybe you’d better try. Perhaps you should just go, and leave me to it.”
“Oh, come off it. Just because I’m not willing to sleep with you, (and didn’t he wish he could? Even just once more, for the sake of putting an old demon to rest) doesn’t prevent me from loving you. For me to stop loving you, I’d have to stop myself from breathing. That’s not natural, see. I’m far too self-indulgent to do such a thing.”
Gods, wasn’t there yet another thing that he’d thought he would never admit out loud, even in his own company, let alone to the man in question?
“What’s more is I’m not going to leave you while you’re saying things like that.”
“I don’t want to talk,” he finally muttered, after an extended silence.
“Good, then you can listen.”
Rupert didn’t say anything, and he took it as permission to carry on, even if it hadn’t been meant as such.
“I’m sure that the Council didn’t explode because of an overstocking of the ratio of compacted knowledge.”
“Can’t the fucking world take care of itself for once? Why it always has to be me, I don’t know. Taking care of the world, or trying to got my fingers broken, my power stripped from me, lost me the… friends I once had,” he finished the sentence lamely, obviously cutting off what he was going to say in the first place.
Lost you the what? Oh, don’t. Don’t play this game.
“You always used to tell me to do it, to let the world screw itself up as it pleased. Maybe I should have listened to you a long time ago. Had some fun along the way, on the way out.”
He hated how close Rupert’s voice sounded to tears. But then, tears would be better than that numb shut-down. Tears were the start of a cleansing of the soul.
“You can’t stop though, can you? Because you’re a hero.”
“I’m no hero. I’m a has-been. The blood on my hands…”
“It was shed by monsters.”
“Human monsters, Rupert. And humans have a choice about what they do. Take me, for example. Made my own choices, didn’t I?”
“No. I’m not a hero.”
Rupert was shivering. It seemed like as good an excuse as any to rest his arm back over his side.
“I’m afraid you are a hero. You’ve saved the world several times over, love. Whether you like it or not, that qualifies you. Me, on the other hand, I’ve never been anything more that a minor threat to several people along the way.”
That sounded like choked, watery laughter, the kind that could easily turn into hysterics.
“…aren’t that minor.”
“Face it. You’ve never been called over here to stop any of my plots, have you? Perhaps to protect me from my own devices, but that’s another story entirely, isn’t it? I like the world a little too much to want to see it ended.”
Keep him engaged. If nothing else he had to keep him engaged, make him think.
“Still don’t care about the world. Not any more.”
Ethan smiled into the back of his neck, knowing that he would feel it.
“Then screw the world. Not literally, of course, that could be a rather tiring proposition even as amusing as it would be, but take a day. Take a week, or a month, or a year if you want to. Be selfish, Rupert. But do it through living. You’ve a right to, you do deserve it.”
Of course, if Rupert pulled himself back together, then he would be amazed if Rupert did cool his heels for a week. Again, though, that was neither here nor there.
What did matter was that he had to discover the will to carry on inside himself, again.