Chapter Twenty: whiskey and thrills
Word Count: 1,224
He felt like such a fool. He should have been able to do more. It was irrelevant that the man had towered over him; he should have been able to protect her better. He should have stepped up; he should have refused to back down. The image of Silas’ hand gripping Tyberos’ wrist tortured him. He loathed that the Scarecrow had been able to be rid of the steroid junkie and he hadn’t. He was losing; he knew it. Self-loathing was a black pit but it offered so much sympathy. What really mattered, anyway?
Even the bartenders were eyeing him suspiciously, but he ignored them because as long as his tumbler continued to be filled, he did not care how they looked at him. He did not care how anyone did, anymore. He’d stopped caring some ten-or-eleven drinks before. No one spoke to him; it seemed everyone was content to let him alone, and for that he was grateful; almost as grateful as he was for the constant refill of whiskey at his disposal.
It vanished so quickly from his glass that he’d begun to wonder if he was spilling it as he turned on his stool from side to side, scanning the room for a single pair of eyes. For a flash of cerulean and copper.
He was losing his mind. Where had she gone? The question haunted him but what was worse was the way Silas had vanished from the room, too. It was that stray bit of knowledge that had burrowed into his ribcage; every labored breath drawing it deeper, closer to puncturing his heart. She was with the Scarecrow, he knew it like he knew he’d had too much whiskey; the world around him swam slightly at the edges and his eyes struggled to focus.
With his forehead resting on his arm, propped against the bar, his stool tilting backward dangerously, he rehearsed what he wanted to say to her. His lips formed the words silently and they tumbled into the carpet beneath his stool.
I don’t care who might be watching. I’m so tired of caring who might be watching. I have spent a lifetime marveling at you from afar, waiting for the right opportunity to happen to me, but I’m done waiting.
The things that had been bubbling up during his interview, the half-thoughts and desperate pleas he’d held back for so long – where were they? They’d been so refined, so concise. The words had been so clear. Or at least they’d been weightier, they’d had more passion and fire behind them.
In a months time, I might be dead; a bullet through my brain or an arrow through my heart. Maybe a poisoned kiss on my lips.
He tormented himself with the possibilities for a while before his attention drifted back to her. Back to the one he imagined behind every blow, every trap. She’d crept into every part of him, even his terror, and she could not be shaken out. He’d hoped the words would come easier, but it felt like pulling teeth. In the haze of alcohol his brain fumbled through, his resolve felt like it was lost in the shuffle.
But here, we’re on even terrain. Here, I know you’re just as frantic and horrified as I am. I know that you’ll look for my face in the hall in the morning, not his. For the first time, I have my opportunity, and I’m not going to miss it.
Every word he chose felt too big or too empty or too diluted; too heavy on his tongue or too bitter. Nothing fit together, none of the arrangements worked the way he wanted them to. They were not spells, he reminded himself; he could not make her understand by sheer will alone.
Right now, I’m all in – because I’ve got nothing else, Ruarí; nothing except this right here with you.
He could practically hear the clock ticking – soon, the bar would close down, the Gamers would disperse, and he and Ruarí would awkwardly part ways in the hallway. He would go into his quarters, furious at himself, and probably destroy the room in a fit of drunken rage. He already felt like destroying something. He thought about how he would feel in the morning; how the sickening acidic taste of cowardice would keep him from eating breakfast, or meeting her eyes.
If she was isolated with Silas, off somewhere he couldn’t reach, she was as good as lost to him. It didn’t matter, anymore, if Silas had managed to say just the right thing with just the right grin at just the right time. He was as good as ruined.
It was that thought that moved him from his stool to his feet.
It was the swell of riotous jealousy that burgeoned forth from his chest that drove him up the stairs, following some trace he was not consciously aware of, ignorant of the camera floating behind him up the stairs. He threw open the door to the roof and stepped into the stuff of his personal nightmare. Beneath a breathtakingly bright galaxy, Silas leaned against the railing, a glass of whiskey in his hand, the liquid swirling ever so slowly with the smooth, idle rotation of his wrist. He faced Rory, and even with her back to Aeon, it was unmistakable how glorious she looked beneath the constellations, beneath the infinite depths of space.
The Scarecrow was winning.
Some awful, drunken demon perched on his shoulder whispered, what do you really have to lose?
It was that single taunting query that pushed him across the threshold and onto the roof. It propelled his steps, surprisingly strong and sure considering his blood-alcohol content, and it was that same question that locked his fingers around her wrist and pulled her to him.
He caught her gaze with his and the instant their eyes met he stopped thinking. It was no longer about getting her away from him. It wasn’t about telling her how desperately he cared for her. It was about none of those things. It was about the way her skin felt in his palms, the way the satin swirled around her ankles and caught the moonlight. It was about the way her lips curled upward in a familiar smile as she recognized his face. His intentions shifted, so subtly that he was not even aware he had ever planned on anything else.
For a moment, she simply looked up at him, her wide eyes absorbing every detail of his face, burying her observations beneath the still waters of the seas in her irises; he could feel their heartbeats hanging in the narrow space between them.
And there it was: his chance, the single moment in which everything slowed and became clear. He kissed her, and it took his mind a second to catch up to the warm return press of lipstick on his mouth; the scent of champagne and orchids flooded his nostrils. When he broke away, his lungs gulped down fresh air and suddenly everything hit him at once. His vision was clear when he tore his gaze from her to meet Silas’ withering glower.
He couldn’t help it; he knew it would just infuriate the Scarecrow, he knew it was cruel, but he simply could not help it.
Aeon smiled at him.