He hadn’t expected a reply to that, and he wasn’t given one as Rupert fell back into that almost pointed silence.
Sighing, he sat up and swung his legs off the bed, bracing himself with the bed as he stood. He was half-way through the door before Rupert’s voice startled him.
“What are you doing?”
“Going to put on your jug, do us a cup of tea and make a phone-call.”
“I’m doing you one, even if you have to take it as an enema. You always were impossible before your morning drink.”
“You want me to have a drink then bring the fucking bottle back with you.”
“No, Ripper, tea. You can bite the dog that bit you later on.”
He turned back to look at Rupert, hoping for some reaction. Even a twitch of that old smile would have been nice. Hoping, but not expecting. Again, his expectation wasn’t disappointed.
Rupert had rolled onto his back, and was staring up at the ceiling with a dull, unseeing gaze, hands tucked behind his head and elbows pointed out to either side.
Again, he found himself confronted by memory, this time of Ripper sitting up leaning against the headboard of the glorified single bed which had been all that they could afford then, hands in the same position and that regular wicked grin on his face. He had given his orders with the air of a man who had known he was in control, as though disobedience were unthinkable, so of course it had been.
There was none of that here.
“In case you didn’t get the message before, I don’t care.”
“You may not, but I do. Guess it means I’ll just have to do it for the both of us.”
He turned and headed down the hallway, stopping in the kitchen to put the kettle on like he’d said he would. Staring at the wall as he waited for it to fill he started to turn the situation over in his head.
He’d charged into things yesterday because he’d seen the urgency of the situation, yet the honest truth was that he didn’t have a single bloody clue where he was going with the interference that he was running. Winging it had worked well enough for most things, but he wasn’t sure that he would be able to rely on that old instinct of his to get Rupert through this intact. There was nothing natural about this, nothing that he’d ever done before.
To guard his own actions the way that he was wasn’t something that felt right. But it was something that he had to do.
Someone like him, helping to build up someone like Rupert again though (if he could) that was chaotic in itself. There was something oddly poetic in the way that their rare times of compatibility seemed to be started or ended with those defeats that left one of them completely open and vulnerable to the world in general.
The shock of cold water flowing over the rim and down onto his hand startled him out of his thought. Pouring out a little of the excess water and turning off the tap he turned on the element and put the kettle on it, then went into the sitting room to dig his cell-phone out of his jacket pocket.
Half a battery left – he would have to charge it later.
Opening up the contacts he phoned work first and paced while the line rung at the other end.
“Good morning Mister Rayne.”
Jim had always had one of those voices that could sound calm at a football match. But right now he could hear the strain in it.
“Good morning,” he took a breath and braced himself.
“Look,” Jim cut across his thoughts, “if you’re ringing about coming in today, so have half the other people here. Power’s still out in half the building too, and I’d prefer to get security to sweep the place before letting anyone else back in anyway. We’re letting everyone take the rest of the week off. Come Monday things should be a bit more sorted.”
“Thanks. I’ll see you another day, then.”
Well, that was that sorted. Now for the phone-call that he didn’t know how to handle.
Frowning to himself he put in the number of Amber’s handset. This time it was answered on the second ring.
“Ethan. How are things?”
No preamble, straight to the heart of the matter. Sure, that was her. How are things?
I don’t know.
“Honestly? I’ve never seen him brought this low before, and he’s been through a hell of lot in his time.”
Did his voice sound normal? He hoped to Janus it did. The last thing that he needed was to find out that what he’d spent half the night thinking over was obvious in his tone.
“Did… ah, that is to say, do you think that you can manage this on your own? If he needs a professional, if he’s as bad as that…”
“I am a professional, honey. Besides, he’s not exactly the most open person in the world as it is. If he were made to talk to someone else then all he would do was tell them enough to get them off his back. Then he’d keep it all inside himself until it came to a head and something happened; probably something rather explosive, or implosive I… I’ve seen it before. Besides, I didn’t get my Master’s simply for the value of the paper it was written on.”
No. He had read psychology at university, and then returned later, after his life had fallen to pieces to complete the last two years of his degree because there was no better way to manipulate people than to understand the fundamentals that went into making up people and personalities.
Silence. And then…
“You sound like you know him quite well.”
No, there was no accusation in that tone. Not yet at least and that was a good thing because it still gave him a chance to salvage things.
“Look, honey,” the kettle began to whistle, “this really isn’t a conversation to be having over the phone. I’ll come over to steal some food later on, don’t trust the contents of Rupert’s fridge as far as I could throw the fridge itself, and maybe we could have a quick word? I’m reluctant to leave him for all that long at the moment. At least until I know he’s not going to do anything stupid.”
Anything stupid…everyone knew what that one was a euphemism for, didn’t they? Hell, in the first few months after finding him, it had been her keeping an appropriately close eye on him for what had more or less amounted to the same reason.
Anything stupid, such as an overdose on painkillers, or drinking so much that one went off to a long, long sleep, or playing with razors, or roulette with all the bullets left in, or maybe a lovely round of ‘chicken’ out on the freeway with a truck.
Stupid things like that, which seemed like perfectly sound, reasonable ideas at the time. Especially in those moments where the kick of adrenalin seemed like the only think worth hanging around for, and anything seemed better than living in the world, trying to deal with it.
Quietly he flexed the fingers of the hand that wasn’t holding the phone to his ear, watching as the muscles worked under the skin, stretching it and dipping it. A scar for each time that his heart had been ripped out, that was what it was.
Although only one of them was across the base of his wrist; the rest marked him in other ways, in other places; psychological or torn across the heart of whom he was. Then again, no-one escaped from this life unmarred.
He knew that he would have to be careful in exactly what he said. There was no point in saying everything, of course. There was no point in worrying her unduly over something that he wouldn’t allow to happen, but he would have to say more to her than simply ‘he’s an old friend.’
“Ethan? Are you still there?” her voice broke into his reprise.
“Yes, sorry. I was just… thinking.”
“I said, are you sure even half an hour or so is safe? I could bring what you needed over, if that’s… better?”
He headed through to the kitchen and switched off the kettle which was doing its best to either join the opera or reach a pitch only audible to dogs and bats. In his minds eye, he could clearly see the man who was laying just down the hall with that blank stare.
“I think so. I’m not sure he has the determination to do anything at the moment, unless he decides to try and drown himself in his cup of tea. It’s only once he’s back on his feet that I think he’s liable to try anything, if he’s going to. At the moment he’s too numb to do much more than contemplate things.”
“You’d know, wouldn’t you?”
That was said as tenderly as possible, too, when it could have easily become a cruel cut from someone else.
Physician, heal thyself. He felt his lips twitch up into an ugly, slightly bitter smirk. There was no-one better at self-analysis than a psychiatrist but that didn’t mean that he was any more stable than the rest of humanity. It simply meant that he was better at hiding his own problems, and prodding other people in the direction that they needed to go in. He had been good at what he did before, and he was even better at it now.
The real home field advantage lay in the fact the he really did know Rupert.
“Yes, I would know. I’ll come by after you get off, shall I?”
“I’ll see you later. I’ve only got one call today, so any time after eleven works for me.”
“I’ll see you then, Amber.”
He hung up, and bustled around getting the tea ready, which he made the way that he remembered Rupert liking. It was strange, those little things that stayed with you, even after the reason for them was gone.
No sugar and a good quarter cup of milk first thing, and then as the day wore on less and less was added.
Carefully he carried it down to the bedroom, and wasn’t all that surprised to find Rupert exactly as he’d left him.
“Cup of tea, love.”
He would have been surprised to get as much as a grunt of response from him. He was shocked to get a glance in his direction.
“Put it down on the table, would you? I think I want to go back to sleep.”
Ethan acquiesced, and congratulated himself on making an accurate judgement of Rupert’s current condition. It would be a while yet where Rupert wouldn’t be doing much more than sleeping; he remembered that stage well enough. After Rupert had left he hadn’t even had the energy or desire to pick an argument, or feed himself. After a couple of weeks in the hospital, recovering a little of his strength he’d gone back to the squat he’d shared with the man, and burned the building to the ground.
It would be once the shock wore off that Rupert would possibly become a danger to himself.
Damn and blast, but he wished that someone had left a roadmap titled ‘Snapping Watchers out of Shock.”
If Adrian hadn’t been caught in the blast, then he might have even rung him for advice. Rupert may not have got on with his old man, but the old bas… uh; bloke had cared for his wayward son in his own way, even if he hadn’t often shown it.
Maybe there was someone else who would know of a way. Or maybe he truly would be on his own, left to rely only on his experience gained by being where Rupert was now.
“Did you want me to… stay, or anything?”
He wasn’t sure that he wanted to stay, himself. Last night had been that bloody close to hell, and this morning when Rupert had turned into him he’d felt the flames licking even closer.
Rupert lowered his gaze for half a heartbeat, as though ashamed of himself.
Ethan circled around to the other side of the bed and settled himself on top of the covers like he had done last night.
A strange noise perked his curiosity, and he found himself looking around for the cause of it until he realised that it was Rupert himself, emitting that same watery chuckle that he’d heard earlier, even as he curled towards Ethan.
“You have a strange set of morals for a Chaote.”
“Not a Chaote, love,” he muttered, as he held the other as securely as he dared, “once, I’ll grant you, but not any more. These days I’m a humble disciple of Janus. I don’t work to the extent that I used to; no rearing up to tear apart the building blocks of order. Haven’t done so in a long time; these day’s it’s simply chaos for the sake of chaos itself.”
His voice got quieter and then he fell silent as he realised that Rupert had drifted back off to sleep already.
So there would be no discussing the point behind discord and entropic magic in the world today, then. Rupert had always been the only person to actually make him think about what he was saying or doing, too. If his conscious ever spoke up, then it was from his left shoulder and the tiny little bugger wore tweed.
Rupert had made him consider the dividing line between natural and unnatural chaos. Hadn’t ever stopped him from crossing it, mind, but he’d made him realize that it was there. Natural chaos worked with the natural change and decay and shift of the world, whilst unnatural chaos forced things into unnatural shapes and forms. Both forms paid heed to Janus, but only one was the perfect flipside to order. The other was closer to evil, even if it wasn’t, in and of itself.
Amber wouldn’t be back for a few hours yet. He may as well take advantage of the moment.
Closing his eyes, he focused on nothing less vital than the breathing of the man beside him and tried to still his thoughts. It was with this sound in his ears that he finally drifted off himself.