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"and the rain pours down on london town"

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Sep. 1st, 2011 | 01:01 pm

Title: and the rain pours down on london town [1/4]
Fandom: The Eagle.
Characters: Marcus&Esca, with a smattering of others.
Word Count: 5757.
Rating: 15.
Summary: Marcus Aquila is a recovering war hero, invalided home from Afghanistan with a leg full of shrapnel. Esca MacCunoval is a self-destructive drunk, left reeling by the deaths of his family. As it so happens, Marcus can move things with his mind; as it so happens, Esca has wind, earth, air, and fire securely under his thumb. Neither of them mind the rain. Marcus/Esca, eventually.
Warnings: language, references to wartime trauma, alcoholism, hints at violence.
Notes: Ah, modern-day mutant!AU, anyone? The [1/4] is provisional.


and the rain pours down on london town


The carpet is thick and rich beneath Marcus’ bare feet. A simple flex of the toes in its lavish pile speaks volumes about its provenance, its quality, its value. The room—his room—is highceilinged, suffused with soft warmth from delicately-disguised lights, belying the lashing rain outside, and the furniture and wallpaper come together in a synergy of that oh-so-quaint British country style his uncle is so fond of – and this beautiful, opulent suite is currently occupied by an extravagant monstrosity, grinning in its garishness, draping itself over a chair with all the arrogance of an eagle on the hunt.

Marcus crosses his arms across his chest, stubborn set to his lips. “Really?” he asks flatly.

Sitting crosslegged in a wingbacked armchair, Thomas Aquila smiles. He’s already monkeysuited up. “Really,” he says. “It’s not a jaunt to the cinema, Marcus. It’s a high society black-tie gala: women in inches of makeup, men decked out like penguins.” The smile slides sideways into a smirk. “That’s how it works.”

“Yeah,” Marcus answers shortly. “Right.”

The perfectly-tailored Saville Row dinner jacket leers mockingly at him from its hanger. Marcus doesn’t like to think about how much it cost – or how exactly his uncle managed to get his precise measurements without even asking. He fingers his own scabby plain white teeshirt, feels the thinner patches of fabric where he’s worn it so much it’s falling apart and the ragged hems of his jeans, dirty from the churned gravel drive. This is definitely more him.

“Don’t even think about it,” Aquila says, fiddling with the golden knots he’s wearing as cufflinks. “Suit up.”

Marcus sticks his hands in his pockets. He’s getting the feeling that he’s acting like a petulant child, with a foot-stamping supermarket-screaming tantrum just around the corner – but he really doesn’t want to wear that suit. “Wouldn’t my dress uniform be more appropriate?” he whines. “Smart, formal. An alluring shade of dark blue.”

Aquila looks up, one eyebrow quirked. “You don’t have it with you,” he points out.

“I can get it,” Marcus answers, quick as gunfire.

“It’s in a lockup in central London,” Aquila says, lick of amusement in his voice. “Along with the rest of the SAS shit that you, for some reason, didn’t want to bring to my house.”

Marcus ignores the subtext there, the unsaid the uniforms and medals you wouldn’t bring but the nightmares you would?, and says, “I know people who can grab it for me.”

“No you don’t.”

Marcus winces. “I can get to know people.”

Aquila is smothering a smile. “In the next twenty minutes?”

“Sure,” Marcus answers easily, and then pulls a face, both at himself and at the very expensive suit. “Okay, maybe not – but I can get to know a car.”

“Your physio won’t like that.”

“Motorbike.”

“Same problem.”

“Public transport,” Marcus gropes.

“Twenty minutes,” Aquila rebuts, with a sense of glorious finality in his voice. “Suit up.”

Marcus folds his arms again and listens to the patter of rain against the balcony windows. On some level, he thinks it’s sad that the only place he has to be on a rainy November night is in a London hotel, making smalltalk with the upper classes and, if he’s lucky (according to Aquila), rubbing shoulders with royalty. A thousand miles from the sandy barracks of Afghanistan – and there’s a spark of bitterness in the pit of his stomach at that thought. He quashes it, and ignores the sudden tremble in his breath. “Well,” he begins, and slips a touch of silver into his voice, “I could always, y’know, change your mind. With my mind. It’s easy; quick as thinking.”

Aquila snorts. “I think we both know you can’t do that,” he says, and stands up, stretching out the creak of his joints. His hair is as white as his formal shirt.

“Not yet,” Marcus corrects pointedly. “I’m working on it.”

“Well, you need something to do while you do nothing in my house,” Aquila answers, and there’s no malice behind that statement. “Just don’t go reading the minds of my staff, okay?”

“Because that’s really my style,” Marcus remarks, and begins to consider the possibility that he might maybe have to wear the dinner jacket. At least it doesn’t have tails: that’s something. He pads forward, footsteps muffled in the carpet, and picks up the jacket. It feels expensive, even to his uncouth touch.

Aquila hums noncommittally, and then, hesitantly, as if half-embarrassed, he says, “Marcus.”

“Yeah?” Marcus answers, and flips in irritation at the bowtie. Now he’s not wearing that slithery thing; hell, he’s not even going to touch it. Its satin touch on his mind even makes him think in the Queen’s English, stiff upper lip, what-ho and all that.

“You know I’m fine with you,” Aquila says, “and your… gifts. You know that.”

“Of course,” Marcus says, mildly surprised with the conversational turn. He thinks the dinner jacket back onto its perch and turns back to face Aquila. “Why are you saying this now?”

Aquila’s gaze is solemn, apologetic. “Not everyone is as accepting,” he says. “You know that, too. And the kind of people you meet at these events—” He stops abruptly, spins his cufflinks. “Let’s just say they can be quite conservative.”

Marcus feels something jump in his jaw. “Quite?” he asks, acidly.

“Very,” Aquila answers, heartbeat-quick. “If I was someone else, I might even say bigoted. Just… No party tricks?” He pauses, looks like he feels sick at his own words. “I don’t want you hurt. They don’t like people like you.”

“People like me,” Marcus says, slowly. “Let me guess.” He begins to tug his teeshirt over his head, movements mechanically sharp, uncaring that his uncle is in the room as he’s stripping off his clothes. “I’m a freak. Unnatural. An offence against God. Many gods. Any god.” He thinks the now-knotted top away, flinging it into the corner. “I am disgusting,” he continues, matter-of-fact, and starts to yank the fussy dress shirt on. He does up buttons so fast his fingers burn. “Sickening. I should be ashamed of myself. I should be ashamed of my DNA, even though there’s not much I can do about that.”

“Marcus—” Aquila tries.

Marcus spins the jacket on its hanger into the air, keeps it hanging there like a stringless amputee marionette. The arms quiver. He tugs his jeans off, says, “I am not worthy.” Kicks the denim away, replaces it with smartly-cut trousers, black as the rainlashed night outside. “I am nothing.” He turns on his heel, rigidly-angled as the parade ground’s demands, and snaps to mock-attention. The dress shirt gapes at the neck; the trousers ride low on his hips. “How do I look?” he asks, and his voice is dark.

Aquila doesn’t say anything, just for a moment.

Marcus feels queasy. Abruptly, he wants to apologise. It’s not Aquila’s fault, and he knows that.

Aquila’s expression is studiedly blank. “When you’re ready,” he says calmly, “I’ll be downstairs.” He leaves, closing the door behind him with a soft click.

Marcus stands in the centre of the room that’s not really his, muscles trembling, halfway into black tie. His breathing is loud in his ears – but he controls himself, calms himself. Takes short, sharp breaths, closes his eyes. Doesn’t think about look, it’s lieutenant peeves and hey, the poltergeist is here! – and he sort of wants to punch something, but, equally, he thinks that’s probably not the best idea.

“No party tricks,” he says, and listens to the rain.

He dresses: pulls on socks and shoes, threads smart silver cufflinks into his sleeves. He combs his hair in the mirror, slips into his dinner jacket. It fits him like a glove, as he almost knew it would – and finally he ends up standing in front of the full-length mirror, razor-smart and shiny-shoed, bowtie dangling unpleasantly from his hand. He grimaces, and tentatively lays it round his neck, like it might strangle him. It trails awkwardly over his collar, and he tucks it into place, leaving the ends tipped in a fragmented waterfall down his white-shirted chest.

Marcus studies himself in the mirror.

He leaves, eventually – flicks off the lights, leaves the opulence in darkness. Aquila is seated in the drawing room, dinner jacket hung over the back of a chair, The Times spread out on his lap, and he looks up as Marcus limps down the stairs, polished shoes quiet-tapping on the carpet. Marcus meets his gaze levelly, just daring him to make a comment – but all Aquila does is fold the paper neatly, put it to one side, and says, “And the bowtie?”

“It’ll take us an hour to get there,” Marcus says. “I’ll do it later. For now, just think of me as James Bond.”

Aquila stands, straightens his shirt. “Bond would be impeccable,” he observes.

Marcus shrugs, tucks his hands into his pockets. “Sean Connery would be impeccable,” he answers. “Daniel Craig, on the other hand? Open necks and dishevelled ties all the way.”

Aquila shrugs on his jacket. “You are not allowed near the DVD library anymore,” he says.

They step out into the night, and into the rain. It lashes angry little bullets against hands, eyes, skin – and Marcus’ hair, which he thinks is just a little unfair, considering that was the part of his ‘outfit’ for the evening he paid the most attention to. He flicks the car door open from ten metres away, and Aquila might’ve commanded no party tricks but he’s sure as hell grateful when he has to do nothing but step into the Jag. Marcus dives in headlong after him and tucks the door shut, then shakes his head, spraying rainwater across the leather interior.

Aquila gives him a look. “You’re not a dog, Marcus,” he says, and that maybe cuts to the bone a little more than it was intended to; i am nothing. If he’s honest, if he thinks about it, he’s been called worse.

They let that hang in that air, and Marcus stretches out, snaps his seatbelt in. “Sorry,” he says, abruptly, “about before. I overreacted.”

Aquila shakes his head, avoids Marcus’ gaze. “Doesn’t matter.” He pauses, and they’re both quiet for a moment as Stephan slips into the driver’s seat, fires up the ignition. The interior lights darken into dimness, and the engine rumbles in the bodywork around them: they purr off down the drive, gravel whispering its crunch beneath the tyres. For a moment, Marcus watches Aquila as Aquila watches the rain slithering past the window, and then his uncle says, “Truth be told, I never really gave it much thought before you turned up on my doorstep with a crutch and a bag of dirty clothes. The mutant issue, that is.” He flicks a thumbnail against the car’s leather, frowning, and says, “Never liked that word too much, either. I mean, what isn’t a mutation? Eye colour, height, body type – evolution is mutation.” Aquila makes an indescribable sound of irritation, and Marcus can’t quite hide a smile.

“Well, I’m so sorry to bring your mind out of Ancient Egypt and back to the pressing current issues of the day,” Marcus answers, deadpan.

Aquila finally tears his gaze away from the rainspattered window. “It was quite a shock to the system,” he answers, equally serious. “You must be more careful from now on: I am getting old, you know.”

“You’re fifty,” Marcus answers. “Hardly octogenarian.”

“I’m fifty-six,” Aquila stresses, and then says, “and I won’t be octogenarian, in the proper sense of the word, for another twenty-four years.”

“You know, you’re just proving my point.”

“I’m aware of that,” Aquila says, and smiles.

They sit in the quiet for a moment, listening to the soft hum of BBC Radio 3 murmuring through from the front. Marcus listens for a moment, feels a little lost, and then thinks that his uncle probably knows exactly what piece is being played, by which orchestra, and led by which conductor. He goes on to realise that, probably, everyone at this do tonight will have the same level of useless musical knowledge – and while he’s perfectly adept at categorising weapons by touch alone and stripping a rifle with his mind, he somehow doesn’t think those skills are going to be that useful in making polite conversation about the latest Dow Jones/celebrity wedding/society scandal.

Absently, he plays with his cufflinks.

“They’re not so bad,” Aquila says, after a moment, cheeks striped by the passing interference of the moon, “really. Pompous, more than anything: flatter an ego or two and you’ll be set for the evening.”

“My kind of party,” Marcus answers dryly.

The dimness makes it hard to see, but Marcus thinks Aquila might be smirking. “Take some advice,” he says, and there’s definitely amusement in his voice. “Don’t drink too much, don’t start any fights, and don’t spend all your time talking to the pretty girls – us old folk need some love, too.”

“Please don’t use that expression ever again.”

“I’ll do my best.” Aquila snickers. He definitely snickers, and, well, Marcus isn’t having that. With a flick of a mischievous thought, Marcus starts to quietly undo his perfectly-tied bowtie, making sure not to let the flailing ends flick against his uncle’s chin. It’s an exercise in delicacy; he’s just honing his skills. Aquila doesn’t notice, and the child in Marcus claps his little hands in glee – and then, softly, Aquila says, “And if your leg starts to bother you—”

“I can use it as an excuse to go and find a pretty nurse,” Marcus interrupts. He’s not going to be mothered and mollycoddled, not tonight. Tonight, he was never invalided home with a body shot full of metal; tonight, he’s James Bond, à la Daniel fucking Craig.

“Okay,” Aquila says, and they leave it at that.

Rain is sluiced off the windscreen by furiously scraping wipers, and they pass the rest of the journey in companionable silence. Countryside turns to city, trees flickering into streetlamps, and Marcus watches as the lights of London blur out the stars. Absently, thumb spinning cufflinks in smooth circles, he flicks his bowtie into as much of a bow as it’s going to get.

They pull up at the Savoy, and for the first time in a long time Marcus feels the churn of nerves in his stomach. Give him a sandy desert chock-full of guerrilla fighters and he won’t back an eyelid, but a room bursting with the crème de la crème of British high society…? He sighs, and then follows Aquila out of the car – and feels the buzz of lightning in the air. As Stephan takes the car into the Savoy’s belly, Marcus peers out into the rain, watching the boys and girls of London town run down the Strand, decked out in all their clubbing finery for a night on the town. He’s half-impressed that the rain hasn’t deterred them – and then Aquila says, “Thank you, Marcus.” With a wryly annoyed smile twisting his lips, he redoes his bowtie.

Marcus smiles beatifically, and doesn’t say a word.

They’re guided through the hotel by a chattily friendly concierge, and Marcus trails in his uncle’s wake, doing his best to hide the fact that the swift pace makes his limp that fractionally worse, as Aquila quizzes their slightly-balding guide on who’s already there, what the mood of the room’s like, and which brand of champagne they’re serving. The man answers all the questions with a zest and speed Marcus would never have managed – he’s almost impressed.

“Here we are!” the concierge says – and now that he’s close enough, Marcus can see that his badge says ‘James Tovey’. They’ve reached a pair of impressively tall double doors, and as they’re smoothly pulled open, the hallway is suffused by the sound of chatter and chinking glasses. “Enjoy your night,” Tovey says, and ushers them inside.

As the doors close behind them and flutes of champagnes are ushered into their hands, Aquila winks at Marcus. “Chin up,” he says, and tilts his glass in an almost-toast. Marcus takes a breath, steadies himself – and takes a sharp gulp of champagne, just for luck. It bubbles down his gullet, suffuses the beginnings of warmth through his stomach, and the delicacy of the crystal glass in his big hands makes him distinctly nervous. He takes another mouthful – and as he swallows a bearded, balding, besuited patriarch sweeps towards them, arms outstretched. “Tommy!” he booms. “Old chap, where have you been? Hiding away at that dingy old outhouse of yours? What a pity. Read your latest – absolutely marvellous. Come now, the chaps will want to know where you’ve been, you elusive rotter.” – and Aquila is promptly dragged away into the mass of smartly-suited, devastatingly-dressed, hoighty-toighty upper classes.

Marcus has never seen more of a stereotype in his life. It’s sort of startling.

He downs the rest of his champagne in one swift swallow, accepts another from a waiter who has a knowing twinkle in his eye, and plunges into the fray.



Nowadays, Esca has whisky for breakfast.

It’s not intentional, not really: not as if like he pours whisky over his cornflakes as a tasty early-morning snack. He gets up, dizzy with tiredness, eats half a slice of bread before he loses interest – and the whisky’s just there, sitting on the countertop, paired with a printsmeared glass. It takes nothing to slosh himself half a glass, and the burn of the alcohol numbs his mind. He prefers it that way, and he keeps drinking.

He’s drunk by ten, sprawled out on the sofa with a bottle of five-pound wine hanging from his absent fingertips. The fifty-six inch HD TV is slurred on Dave, playing Mock the Week, Dragon’s Den and QI over and over, and it hums its raucous backdrop to the blurry fact that is Esca’s cognisance. The air is full of smoke, but it’s stale, left over from last night: right now, his hands are too shaky to hold a lighter steady for more than a heartbeat. There’s a half-smoked pack of fags on the floor beside his bare feet. If he were himself, he’d open a window, then Febreeze the shit out of the place – but no. Because he doesn’t care.

At twelve, when Robot Wars switches over to Best of Top Gear, Esca stumbles to the kitchen. He pulls the fridge open, hangs off the door, and studies the innards of his food source with one eye closed. There’s a block of cheese. That’ll do. In a parody of fine dining, he has cheese and wine for lunch. Within five minutes the cheddar has escaped his fingers and toppled to land on the fag packet; he doesn’t pick it up, but goes back to watching telly.

Clarkson, Hammond and May spin him through the afternoon. He finishes the wine, and leaves the bottle rolling on the carpet.

By two-thirty he’s bent over the toilet, retching cheese and bread and booze into the bowl.

When he’s done, his head is as clear as it’s been since he dragged himself out of bed, and he pauses, for a moment, sits with his cheek pressed against the coolness of the seat. It’s refreshing, almost – but not enough to stop him retching again, and again. Some part of his brain is surprised: it’s not like he’s eaten a lot.

Esca’s still sitting like that twenty minutes later, body sculpted to the curve of the toilet bowl, when the phone rings, loud and obnoxious. He rolls his head, presses his forehead against the coolness. “I should get that,” he says, slurs, and they’re the first words he’s spoken all day.

The phone keeps ringing. Good thing he doesn’t have an answering machine.

Eventually, after the twelfth ring, Esca manages to right himself. His head is spinning, almost sending him reeling back to the bathroom, but he makes it to the phone. Snags the handset, stumbles back to the sofa. Holds it to his ear, and says, “Yes?”

He’s not big on politeness right now.

There’s a pause, and then, “Mr MacCunoval?

For half a second, half a second in which his lungs feel tight and he almost feels the flames against his flesh, Esca wants to say no, sorry, it’s his son. He licks his lips, wipes a hand across his eyes. “Yeah,” he answers, and then says, “Who is this?”

This is Mark Rowlins,” the phone answers, “from AXA Insurance.

Esca rubs at his forehead. The money men; the insurance vultures. “Sorry,” he says, aware even in his half-drunk state he’s being rude, and really shouldn’t be being rude to the guys who are keeping him in whisky. “Bit out of it.” He pauses, and then adds, “Hangover.”

There’s another quietness at the other end of the line, and then Rowlins says, “No problem, sir.” Esca thinks he might be able to hear the shuffling of papers, and then Rowlins continues: “Mr MacCunoval, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but there’s an issue with your recent payout. Is this a good time to discuss your policies?

Esca wants to say it’s never a good time right now and can’t you just let me drink myself to death in peace?, but he’s not that drunk. His wine-and-whisky diet for today is still sitting in the toilet bowl, so he lies down on the sofa, head throbbing, and says, “Good as any. Go ahead.”

Right.” Rowlins pauses, and Esca recognises that pause. It’s a pity pause, a prelude to a whisper of i’m so sorry for your loss, like their opinion counts, like it makes a difference. “My records show that you received a large lump-sum payout approximately six weeks ago, somewhere around the sum of two and a half million pounds?

Esca’s head is throbbing, and he’s starkly aware that it’s not just the booze. He needs something to numb the pain. “Your records are correct,” he answers shortly. “To be precise, two million, six hundred and eighty-five thousand.” He begins the slow process of stumbling to his feet.

And this monster payout, Mr MacCunoval, is a combined payout from one buildings policy, one contents policy…” Rowlins trails into quiet.

Esca recognises that, too. “Yes,” he completes, “and four life policies.” He’s on his feet by now, and he’s maybe half-steady as he weaves his way to the kitchen. He leans against the countertop and says, “What’s the issue?”

I’m sorry,” Rowlins says, blurts, but Esca just waits. “The thing is, such a large payout is automatically flagged at the end of the quarter for reappraisal, just in case – and there’s the possibility being floated at the moment that you might’ve received more than you were supposed to.

“Okay,” Esca says dully, and doesn’t think about how inviting the mostly-empty whisky bottle looks. He has to deal with this. He looks outside, out the windows with the view of the London skyline, and it’s raining. “What’s the problem?”

The buildings policy,” Rowlins answers, and Esca can hear paper-shuffling again. “That was the majority of the cash – the two million. I’m afraid it looks like someone entered a two where there should’ve been a one. A stupid mistake, and I’m really sorry, but we paid out for two policies rather than one.

Esca is beginning to get really irritated by the way this bastard keeps saying ‘policy’, saying ‘policy’ like it’s just a piece of paper, ‘policy’ like it’s not Esca’s life. He reaches for the whisky, takes a drink straight out the bottle. He’s only got one hand, and he’s still that little bit too drunk to be fiddling around with glasses and bottles and flammably alcoholic beverages one-handed: oh dear, the bottle’ll have to do. “So,” he says, and chinks the Glenfiddich back down, “you want it back?”

Pretty much,” Rowlins says, and there’s almost-surprise in his voice. He’s probably more used to clients arguing when he tries to take their money; Esca just doesn’t care.

“Bank transfer do?” he asks, and feels his muscles tremble.

There’s a somewhat startled pause on the other end of the line, and then Rowlins says in a voice that has more than a smattering of are you kidding? in the subtext, “For a million quid? Really?

Esca hurts, hurts in his liver and his lungs and his heart. “Okay then,” he says, quite reasonably. “How do you want the money, then? Suitcase full of banknotes? Giant cheque? Bag of gold? Want me to find a fucking leprechaun to deliver it for you?”

Sir—

“Or, I don’t know, do you want me to bring it to you personally? Kneel at your feet?” Esca’s fingers spasm around the whisky bottle, and he’s half-aware that he’s maybe almost shouting. “That’d be fine, Mr Rowlins, just fine, I’ll work with whatever you want, because I just want this to be fucking over, okay? Understand? I want it over.”

There are tears on his cheeks. He gropes for the whisky.

I’m sorry, Mr MacCunoval,” Rowlins says, quietly. “I’ll call back.

“No,” Esca says, “don’t. Just… post me whatever I need to do.”

I’ll see what I can do,” Rowlins answers. “And Mr MacCunoval? I— I’m sorry for your loss.

Esca’s eyes are shut. “Yeah,” he answers. “Me too.”

He ends the call, fingers stuttering across the keys, sends the handset skittering across the countertop and onto the floor. The batteries smash out the back, roll under the cabinets – and Esca stands, hands braced against the edge of the table, and suddenly the air is stifling, so full of smoke he thinks his life might be burning (again). He stumbles to the window, and his hands stutter across the latch until he forces it open, splinters the wooden frame. He’s almost leaning out the window, braced across the sink, taps digging into his belly, and rain splatters on his cheeks. The clarity of the air is almost caustic in his smokestained lungs.

After a rainstained moment, full of sudden chill, he falls back into his kitchen – and when he falls, he does fall. His legs give out; he crumples to the ground. He sits back against the cabinets, legs splayed out across the tiles with the snapped strings of the too-drunk – but it’s still too hot in here, still too close. He doesn’t even think about it: the window blows open, wider, wider, and the rainy air is slipping in through the window, clouds pooling against the ceiling, rain hammering down on his flushed cheeks. Suddenly, there’s a thunderstorm in his kitchen and a hurricane in his living room – and oh, he hears Clarkson’s voice fizzle into sparks as the rain gets into the wires and the wind knocks the telly off its stand, books and papers and DVDs and fag-ends swirling around in a twister of his worthless life, but he’s cool, he’s cooler now, that’s what counts, he’s fixed that—

don’t destroy your life again.

Esca gasps, smacks his hands against the cabinet doors. Lightning crackles in his hair as the maelstrom is sucked back out the kitchen window – and then he’s sitting on the floor of his own kitchen, sopping wet and viciously windswept. The floor is swimming in water, half an inch or so at least – and, breath catching in his throat, he reaches out, touches his hand palm-down to the quivering surface of the water. It gathers, tenses, slides up his arm into a sleeve of liquid that doesn’t touch him. It slides up, over his skin and clothes and body, sluicing dryly over him and up to the sink. There, he lets it go; there, when he’s no longer shimmering beneath its weight, he lets it pour into the drain. The chortle of water down the pipes is enough to give him nightmares.

It’s five past three.

Esca curls up on the kitchen floor and tells himself he’s not going to cry.

By half past, he’s on his feet again, face studiedly blank. The flat is a mess, now, flatscreen telly snapped down the middle. He carries it down to the skip round the back of the building, and gets some decidedly odd looks as he does so, which he neither understands nor appreciates: don’t they see their barefoot neighbours carrying broken machinery around every day? – and the wet drips he trails behind himself are only a bonus. He cleans and tidies, worming discarded phone batteries out from under cabinets and putting a grand total of eleven empty wine bottles out for recycling – and he sucks water out of the carpets and the chairs, carrying it in his palm in an iridescent sphere. It crashes down into the sink with a satisfying sense of finality.

When he’s done, the flat is cleaner that it’s been in weeks – and his head is cleared, mostly. He’s even made the bed. It takes him the whole afternoon, and the sun is dipping below that sought-after London skyline by the time he finally stops, and takes a breath.

Far away, Big Ben chimes seven.

He gets into his newly-made bed, still wearing his now-dry clothes, and sleeps, curled up on himself like a child. For a handful of hours, he’s dead to the world—dead to the world as the rain gets heavier and runs down the street in rivers; dead to the world as thunder begins to rumble in the skies and lightning splits that so-desirable view of his right down the middle—and he doesn’t even dream. He’s lucky, that night – his dreams usually leave him squirming out of bed with sweat beaded across his skin.

When he wakes, it’s just past ten.

His movements are mechanical as he dresses himself. He pulls on tight jeans and razor-smart shoes, a dark red shirt and an eagle-buckled belt – and he scrubs soap across his face and twists wax through his hair. A tourist wandering through his bedroom on a tour of broken London lives might think that he looked downright okay – but, of course, he’s not. He looks at himself in the mirror, and his eyes are empty. He goes to the kitchen, finishes the whisky, then retrieves an unopened bottle of vodka from the back of the fridge and does three shots of that. By the time he leaves the flat, his eyes are wild and the neck of his shirt is tugged open, and the only reason he doesn’t smell of alcohol is that it’s still raining. The rainsmell washes everything away.

And even though, in true British fashion, it’s pouring it down, the streets are alive: a hundred girls in short skirts shriek as they totter down the streets in skyscraper heels, and a hundred guys with hawkish eyes watch for the inevitable moment when one slips, trips, and flashes her knickers. Cabs bleat at one another on the road, and students parade their ill-advised fancy dress to the masses (Esca finds himself particularly taken by a weedy guy in a full banana suit), and everybody’s trying to get out of the rain – except for those who are dancing in it, revelling in it, laughing as the rain pounds down on the tarmac.

For a while, Esca wanders the streets. Vodka is still burning fire through his heart, and so he stays warm, but his hair is plastered to his head and his shirt has gone a decidedly bruised colour. He blinks rain out of his eyes and runs his fingers through his sodden hair, leaving it shot up in lightning-shards of contour. There’s a buzz in his heart and his mind: tonight, he wants to forget; tonight, he wants to do whatever will leave him blank and empty and hurting less than he always does. He just breathes.

“Hey!”

The rain almost drums out the voice. Esca turns, half-expecting it to be his own imagination.

There’s a couple, a guy and a girl, sheltering under the faintest of overhangs. The girl is hugging herself for warmth, glitzy clutch occupying one hand while her clothes do a fantastic job of covering as little skin as possible. She’s a flaming redhead, red and petite and leaning back on a stiletto heel like it’s the easiest thing in the world. The guy, beautifully casual in jeans and a tight, tight top, calls, “Hey! You! Drowned rat in the red shirt! Get under here, you idiot!”

Esca stands in the downpour a moment longer, and then thinks what the hell, and obeys. He slips into their shelter: the thunder of the rain is deadened, somewhat; he can hear again. Esca says, “Thanks.”

There’s amusement in the guy’s eyes. Esca doesn’t want to think about how long it’s been since someone looked at him like that. “You’re welcome,” he says, and then, “Were you trying to drown yourself?”

His hand is snaked around the girl’s back, Esca notes, presumably resting against the bare flesh exposed by the halterneck top she’s barely wearing – and oh, her expression is interesting. She’s watching Esca, watching him so intently it makes him shiver, and there’s a quirk to the line of her lips, almost a smile but not quite. She’s assessing him, Esca realises, sizing him up, and so he says, “Hardly. The shower at my place is pathetic as fuck. Waiting for the rain is the quickest way to get clean, short of a swim in the river.”

“Good thing, too,” the girl says, and her eyes sparkle. “I’ve always been a fan of the Mr Darcy look. Got any white shirts?”

Esca gets the feeling he’s just passed some kind of test. Interesting, considering he’s never been that good in interview situations. He feels the wind curling around his neck, the rain pattering on the pavement bare inches away – and then he says, “I’m Esca.”

The girl smiles, and her teeth are dazzling white. “Amber,” she answers. “And this is Sam.”

“Where are you headed?” Sam asks, and now that Esca’s close enough and no longer distracted by the thud of rainwater falling on his tongue he can see the muscles straining against his tight teeshirt, see the scars on his forearms and the bruises on his jawline. There’s a bullishness in his stance, and aggression in the curl of his knuckles: when the situation is right, when everything’s canted just so, when there’s danger whistling in the chill air, Sam is not a nice man – and all that danger does is make something in Esca’s twisted heart sing.

“Wherever you guys are,” he answers, and smiles, bright and empty in the rainy night.


to be continued

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Comments {30}

sea-sky

from: vixys
date: Sep. 1st, 2011 06:35 pm (UTC)
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... dude, just 'cause it's in Lahndan doesn't mean it's steampunk. Although if London were steampunk, that'd be cool. :D ♥

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Tiferet

from: ladytiferet
date: Sep. 1st, 2011 06:46 pm (UTC)
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It would ;) But look: London, rain, carpets, high ceilings, wallpapers, a second of confusion might be understandable with all the steampunk floating around :)

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sea-sky

from: vixys
date: Sep. 1st, 2011 06:48 pm (UTC)
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Maybe a second, you can have that. :D ♥♥

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Tiferet

from: ladytiferet
date: Sep. 1st, 2011 06:59 pm (UTC)
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Well, of course it's clear after several sentences :D
Now I have to read it properly, I only had some time to skim it before I had to go to work :P

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sea-sky

from: vixys
date: Sep. 1st, 2011 09:12 pm (UTC)
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I hope it stands up to your scrutiny. Enjoy. ;D ♥

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Tiferet

from: ladytiferet
date: Sep. 1st, 2011 09:16 pm (UTC)
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My scrutiny? It was not scrutiny! I only tried to work out why Meg had steampunk in mind :)

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