THE St. Louis Speakeasy
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 Post subject: Re: A Taste of Winter
PostPosted: Mon Jul 27, 2015 10:41 am GMT 
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He was in her flat. Well, Freddie's. Or the bare bones of Freddie Graham's flat. He'd crashed here more than a few times in the winter, when his pride would allow it. It was strange to see it without the tell-take signs of the Graham's life, and the faint smell of dog from that bruiser Freddie had kept as a lapdog. Then again it was only the graveyard of the past occupants and now it housed her.

Truth be told, he hadn't been prepared for the unceremonious usher into her territory. Now he was in it, he could barely hear her words as something instead pushed him to glance around, behind her into what he could see of the hall, and at the slowly forming puddles at their feet. They both were avoiding eachother's eyes, and it felt easier this way. Suddenl, Jet realised how damp he was, and shivered. Without thinking it through, he began to remove his sodden coat. "Yeah, I know who--" He backtracked sharply, his hands stopped abruptly as he drew the coat from his shoulders. " "Back from"--? You saw Joe again?" In a moment his voice had grown harsher, almost abrasive, shocked. His fingers clenched on his coat, and even in the semi-darkness of the hall she'd be able to see him pale. "He didn't-- Were you alright? Are you alright?"

A hairpin turn, from stilted, strange distance to rushed urgency and a cloying sense of dread laced by guilt.

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 Post subject: Re: A Taste of Winter
PostPosted: Tue Jul 28, 2015 7:39 am GMT 
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It was fairly obvious that while it was very much the same place, the homely feeling that had been there before had been a little bit lost, from what you could see in the hallway. It was a little bit more barren, but while not necessarily cosy it wasn't unwelcoming either, it just seemed as though the inhabitant hadn't given herself the time to unpack the boxes that she didn't actually have; a home in waiting, slowly being built whenever Lucy found the inspiration and the money to add a new detail. Because things were truly coming together one detail at a time. Most of the bigger furniture —like the bed, or the dining table that you could almost glimpse through the door from the hall way— had previous owners and thus looked a little bit less pristine than some of the newer things she had bought or been given. One such thing was a new set of plates she kept carefully tucked away in the cupboards of the kitchen, and the modern, fiercely symmetrical lamp standing in the living room and clashing rather garishly with the plush red couch it was standing next to. The hall they were standing in was largely empty aside from the coat rack, and as she stood there, looking at the water dripping on to the floor just like he did, Lucy was starting to remember the forgotten bucket, brush, and suds that waited in the kitchen. Her fingers found some lint in her pocket, and she started to unconsciously pick at it as she watched the coat come off his shoulders, saw the drops of rain that fell off the hem of it when it hung in his hands. She couldn't bring herself to offer that he hang it up, come inside, have a seat...

His concern caught her a little off guard, and she wasn't sure if it made her feel as though he was encroaching on the line she had drawn or if it was a bit welcome to see he still could get worried on her behalf.

"I didn't go," she clarified, almost a little bit rushed. "He came by the Untouchable one or two times, blustering, going on about this and that. Thought I was 'working' for Billy." She didn't feel the same need to clarify what she meant with "work" this time around. "Think he's leaving me alone now though, it's been months. If you went to my old place you probably met my replacement."

That Joe stopped showing up or that she had stopped thinking about him from a day to day basis hadn't meant she had stopped worrying about him popping up again however, and these days made a habit of carrying something sharp when walking to or from work or her new home. As with everything else she had tried to let it go, convince herself that it didn't matter, but you couldn't completely ignore the instinct of self-preservation; it was the same instinct that made her so grateful for the fact that she was working for a man who was partial to men rather than women.

"But you should probably keep your distance to him," she then hurried to add. "I doubt he's forgotten you."

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Hey kid.
 Post subject: Re: A Taste of Winter
PostPosted: Tue Jul 28, 2015 10:46 am GMT 
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"... I wasn't planning on it." he replied. The coat was still a little twisted in his hands. The thought of that man going to her place of work and-- No, the thought of that man alone was enough to send cold shivers of rage through his shoulders and make his jaw clench. But at least she hadn't been hurt. At least she hadn't gone to him. The relief had his already hollow chest ache. He felt a little dizzy.

I should have been here. That ever-constant nagging in his forebrain which leaked disgust and contempt continued to drone. I should have been here to protect her.

Even as he draped his coat over his forearm, still only half-realising he had even taken it off, he found himself compulsively searching her complexion. Was that shadow, or the hint of a bruise? Was that smudged lipstick or the hint of blood around her mouth? Lunacy, he knew, but it was only after he reassured himself she wasn't bleeding that he managed to tear his eyes away again and succumb to the urge to avoid the sight of her altogether.

'Months', she had said. That was a blessing, surely. If they'd managed to forget eachother, then somehow they must have slipped his, Joe's mind...

Perhaps removing the coat had unnerved her. But he made no action of hanging it up or stamping his mark across her territory. This was her place, and he only trespassed it with the blessing of her fingers twisted into his lapels and pulling him across the threshold.

"But you're fine." It was one last repetition, as if just to reassure himself of it. Months. And Billy was taking care of her. And she wasn't hurt.

He sighed, and looked away as he dragged a hand through his sodden hair, and half the reason was the momentarily hide his face. Then, inevitably, his hand fell away

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 Post subject: Re: A Taste of Winter
PostPosted: Wed Jul 29, 2015 10:08 am GMT 
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"I'm fine, yes. He didn't get to me."

That time. That time, he hadn't gotten to her. In a way, Joe was her tuberculosis. While Jet had tried to muffle his coughs, Lucy had tried to hide the bruises, the old scars lingering in her mind and on her body. She felt none of the recklessness Jet had been struck by, she had no desire to start disclosing what she had kept quiet about before. If anything she felt even more strongly now that it was over that she didn't want to talk about it. The tip of the ice-berg, the things she couldn't have hid, were bad enough.

Silence settled, her hands were pushed even deeper in to the pockets as she awkwardly avoided his eyes as they gave her that brief once over. When he turned his face away again she sneaked a look at him in return, but she didn't time it well enough and when Jet's hand fell away their eyes met again, and suddenly she couldn't look away despite her earlier efforts. Suddenly she had a strange feeling of being cornered which mostly stemmed from that so very common feeling of panic that you experienced when you struggled to continue a conversation. The thought that she had every right to ask him to leave crossed her mind and briefly she glanced in the direction of the kitchen, thinking of her cleaning as a possible way out, but somehow she couldn't bring herself to dismiss him.

"... If you wanted Freddie's address I could give it to you," she finally said after those painful seconds of silence. "Don't know if you'd want to walk, it's at the outskirts of town. But perhaps you could get a ride there. If you stopped by the Untouchable Billy would give you one, probably, if he's there."

She quieted again, went back to scuffing one shoe against another. Felt the heaviness of the silence settle again, that silence that even an awkward clearing of throats would be preferable to. It was only broken by the still fairly gentle sound of the rain tapping against the windows, and that helped quiet Lucy's rising wish to flee that was mixing with a slightly aching question that she wasn't sure she really wanted to ask; but in the end, the urge to break the silence grew stronger than her discomfort over asking.

"So... how long are you in town for then?"

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Hey kid.
 Post subject: Re: A Taste of Winter
PostPosted: Wed Jul 29, 2015 2:13 pm GMT 
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"Outskirts? At least that keeps him out of tro-- Sorry, after you..."

His words had awkwardly overlapped hers, coupled with something that passed for a thin laugh. The long, heavy silence had evidently weighed on both their shoulders. What she broke it with shifted it from exhausting to unbearable. The questions was, he thought weakly, too direct, and the answer too cruel. But she had asked it, and after failing to protect her he might as well fail to save her from the falling blow. If it felt like a blow to her, he had to remind himself. After all, they were now little more than strangers. The answer may just strike off her chains.

He had to make a conscious effort from shifting back, and reaching for the door handle. She didn't want him here, that much was obvious. Perhaps he wanted to leave just as much as she did. Give me an excuse, he found himself thinking repeatedly, give me any excuse...

"We're just... getting our things together. And settling living arrangements over there. We don't have a lot of stuff, and the University has owned housing, so..." He glanced down and away. For all its slowness, full of caution, his words were carefully chosen and deliberate. "I'd estimate no more than two months, at the most."

He didn't look to her reaction, but then again he could barely guess at it.

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 Post subject: Re: A Taste of Winter
PostPosted: Mon Aug 03, 2015 1:01 pm GMT 
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It had been stupid to ask when she knew that no matter what the response was she would feel that sense of betrayal well up again. The feeling that he had just come here to say good bye, remind her of what she had lost and had no chance of gaining. Her silence spoke volumes, as silences are prone to. The lack of a response is so much more telling in its raw honesty than any malformed lie might be while at the same time not really telling you what they person in front of you is thinking; insecurity, anger, sadness, a sense of being overwhelmed... The only thing you can know is that to strike someone speechless you needed to hit a nerve. Lucy's arms came up to cross loosely over her chest to ward off the blow that by all rights should have glanced off. Because what did it matter? She had lost him once, so surely losing him again couldn't hurt; no matter how unfair it felt that she should have only gotten him while he was dying, and now he would go off and live, and someone else would be the one to get to reap the rewards of his struggles, get to see him dance without hacking up a lung.

"Right." Short, concise. A soft nod, a forced lightness to her voice to soften the edge. Another silence followed, then abruptly she turned around, disappearing in to the living room. There were sounds of drawers, the crinkle of paper, and then she would return with a note that was held out to the young man at her door. There was an address on it, quickly written out in pencil.

"Here."

He hadn't said he wanted the address to the apartment's former habitant, but Lucy was at a loss. She didn't know what she wanted to tell him, didn't know what he wanted to tell her. While before she wouldn't have minded seeing him grovel, perhaps beg for her forgiveness she now found herself strangely lacking in ambition. It was true she had dared him, given him a challenge to rise to if he wanted to maintain some sort of contact —flimsy letters that would mean nothing, an eventually become sparser and longer in between, just like the back-and-forths of this conversation— but now she wasn't sure what good that would do. What it would prove. It was all strangely hopeless, because there was no way back to the fork in the road where they had parted ways before, and she couldn't see far enough ahead to be able to tell what there was to move towards.

A bit of panic set in again. She had to say something, do something, but she couldn't make this decision now. Not right here, in the hall, rain dripping off her clothes, the kitchen half-scrubbed. Not when she was so painfully aware of the fact that it wasn't a decision she could make on her own, when she knew that she might actually not have a choice in the matter at all. She couldn't stand not knowing quite what it was that was wanted from her, because it meant she couldn't be spiteful and go against the wishes, or merciful and make them come true, it was like playing a game without seeing the other player's pawn.

"I'd invite you in," starting out with a gentle, shallow lie, the kind you used for strangers. "but the apartment is a bit of a mess. I was in the middle of cleaning when you knocked."

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 Post subject: Re: A Taste of Winter
PostPosted: Thu Aug 06, 2015 9:25 am GMT 
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"No, of course," he replied stupidly, a little too quickly. Of course she's been cleaning. She's tied her new hair up and was dressed down, so it was the most natural thing in the world. And even if there was no bucket and mop yo be found in the apartment, it wasn't a statement to be questioned. It was such a kind alibi for them both that he wanted to thank her for the route out. Through the thick mud that seemed to constitute the air inside this apartment, she'd allowed them to breath again. Sharp, though, and gasped breaths.

A part of him couldn't help but ask-- But then why did you drag me across your threshold? The coat hung limo across his arm. For an uncertain, strange moment, he wanted to let it slip from his grip to the floor and say stupid things, do stupid things.

He stepped back, unfolding the sodden coat, starting to draw it over his shoulders and arms through its sleeves with a sort of stumbling elegance.

"Thanks for letting me stay out of the rain for the bit." Like hers, words light and short and forced. His hand came up to rest on the lock. Was that a faux pas? He'd always been a good dancer, they danced well together. Now it felt like he was dancing blind and didn't know the steps.

"Shall I write to you--? About Han." The correction was quick but hardly seamless. "Just about Han."

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 Post subject: Re: A Taste of Winter
PostPosted: Fri Aug 07, 2015 1:44 pm GMT 
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Clearing her throat awkwardly. Eyes looking over the floor meticulously as an excuse not to look at her guest. No, she wanted to say. You don't need to write me about him, I don't want to meet him, why should I? We're not friends, we're not more than that, we are part of each others' pasts. But she didn't say that. She shrugged.

"If you have the time," she said, pursing her lips and then shuffling over to stand close enough to the wall to lean her shoulder against it. She wanted to uncross her arms, but it didn't really feel safe to do so yet. The line between them needed to be maintained until she had given herself more time to consider it, but at the same time she could not ignore that spur of the moment demand she had made; if he actually wanted to prove himself it meant that they would need to meet again and that was all her own fault for challenging him like that. But, she reasoned, for all she knew, he might just back down and figure it not worth the effort.

Her thoughts were running away from her again and she had to say something that would divert her brain in to slowing down again. She just really needed some space and time now, some perspective. Perhaps a friend.

"You and him will probably be really busy getting out of here... But... you know. Like I said."

She wasn't really sure what it was she had said.

"Now at least you'll remember my address."

Delivered with a lopsided, humourless smile that managed to soften the words some.

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 Post subject: Re: A Taste of Winter
PostPosted: Sat Aug 22, 2015 9:11 am GMT 
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Jet didn't find it in him to return the smile, but, to his credit, he didn't quite flinch either.

He bowed his head a touch-- the way he's always seen adults do before and somehow came naturally-- and raised his eyes again to meet hers.

"I..." Something in him stilled. He'd been about to make some remark, full of false humour and violently packed with well-meaning jest. I'll get it tatooed on my body. I'll drop it in Han's contact book. I'll come and die at your door, next time.

He forced a smile instead, and his feet lead him backwards into the rain.

"Well. Can't forget it now."

The wisps of hair that escaped her plait and fell heavy with rain at her jaw. Her lopsided collar and drawn-up shirtsleeves, the blanch of her nails as they gripped damp fabric. Traces of reddening beneath her eyes, bruised a little purple with tears.

A part of his past.

"Goodbye."

The sound of his footsteps leading away, and the sight of her replaced by the endless sheets of falling rain, and the splash of the ill-fitting gutters and newspapers plastered transparent against the cobbles... The shadows of hurrying figures, umbrellas drawn low and briefcases held high, and the spit and grumble of the odd cab. The shudder of the tram rails beneath his hands, and the stale smell of cigarettes burned deep into the leather. Rattling keys in his hands, and the jostle of a man against his shoulder-- a coarse face, large hands, might have even been his employer from way back when, when he was nothing more than a street urchin without a doctor, a father. Slotted iron in the lock, shrugging his coat off and leaving it to dry on the hatstand. Wandering, aimlessly, to the kitchen, and running his fingertips against the still-dusty counter, gazing out onto the weed-filled garden. He remembered dancing there, once, twice...

Han was out, probably.

He wandered out of the kitchen and let himself fall onto the couch. Thoughtlessly, he unbuttoned his shirt enough to slip a hand inside and sweep his fingers across the skin that had patterned over with burn, on his chest, a little. It hadn't been too deep or severe, they'd said... Might fade in time, were he lucky.

Did those faint, ugly little burns justify those tears, he wondered, staring up at the ceiling. Were they enough to justify coming back from the dead?

Still standing behind that glass screen that looked out onto the world, his fingers stilled, and his eyelids closed, and in a while he fell out of his thoughts and into a dreamless sleep, marked only by the memory of her hands on his chest, pushing him away.

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 Post subject: Re: A Taste of Winter
PostPosted: Wed Aug 26, 2015 2:58 pm GMT 
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He'd been caught by the rain. Within minutes, the cityscape had transformed into a sodden blur of black and gray. Carrying his letters folded up inside his coat, he had turned up his collar and hurried home at a brisk walk. As he veered away from the busiest streets, his footfalls faded to muffled splashes on the damp pavement. His socks were damp; it hadn't taken long for the water to seep through the cracking leather of his worn shoes. He'd stopped taking the streetcar in anticipation of their move, knowing that once they arrived in New York every cent would make a difference. He had not mentioned this to Jet, whose constitution he would not subject to long walks in the rain.

A maze of quiet side-streets, and then--home. Such as it was. Han crowded close under the eaves, trying to get as far out of the weather as possible while he fumbled for his keys. His breath clouded in the damp air, though in truth it wasn't all that cold. He disliked this kind of rain. It made him feel claustrophobic.

His fingers were just beginning to grow numb when the door swung open. The apartment was full of that silence that lay like a thick blanket of dust, undisturbed. Jet must not be home. Stepping inside, he pushed the door closed with a careless elbow and dragged his feet across the mat. The door slammed a little louder than he'd expected or intended it to. It was only once he'd shrugged off his dripping coat that he noticed Jet's, still damp on the hatrack. So he was home, then. It was odd; he'd grown so accustomed to the ambient sounds of Jet's presence, the coughs, the wheezing breath. Even now, months after Jet's breathing had first begun to ease, the silence deafened him.

He leaned against the wall just long enough to kick off his shoes and peel the sodden socks off his feet. There was a chill in the apartment, from a draught perhaps. The floorboards under his bare feet were cold.

Passing down the hall into the kitchen, he dumped the letters on the table without ceremony. These days, he walked through these rooms withou seeing them. This phase in his life had been a long one, too long. He was ready to move forward and forget. His gaze lingered on the letters for just a moment more. Then he turned and filled the kettle from the faucet, lighting the stove with motions that had long-since become automatic. Strange, to think that once he'd never so much as seen the inside of a kitchen. Turning away, he cast his gaze over the gray cabinets, the dust which had already begun to accumulate. As though no one lived here anymore. Only then did he turn towards the doorway, calling Jet's name, a muted question.

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 Post subject: Re: A Taste of Winter
PostPosted: Wed Aug 26, 2015 4:52 pm GMT 
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The sound of it jostled Jet awake. He started, sluggishly and clumsily, and nearly rolled off the sofa. He managed to catch himself just in time with a low grown and mutter of some profanity he'd picked up in Cape Town. His shirt was still damp. He should have changed it.

"Here." he half-called and half-mumbled out.

He swung his legs over the side and let his head fall momentarily into his hands. Perhaps it had all been a dream after all. That being said, the residual rain could argue against it, though, and the lingering unease and nausea couldn't have been just the product of some nightmare.

Ballet Jew-boy. Thought you were dead. I would have walked to you. Do what you want.

Unblinking, glassy eyes stared down at the worn floorboards for a moment, and her voice echoed in the corners of his mind. Then he buttoned up his shirt a little, stood up, and walked to the kitchen.

Han was about as sodden as you'd expect. He could hear the drum of the rain without even needed to glance outside. A steady and unrelenting drizzle, the type that gets into your skin. As he leant against the doorframe he had to notice the new energy in the older man. Han's actions may have been little short of robotic in how automatic they were, but he had a new purpose. A new life. A fresh start.

Did you come to say goodbye? Check up on me and then leave me again?

The twist of unease and self-loathing wasn't unexpected, but it still surprised him as how deep it felt, as if a fist had reached in and scratched its nails across his diaphragm, plunged it between his guts..

" 'The Drowned Rat.' " His tone was airy. "I hear it's in vogue right now. All the rage in Milan-- you wear it well, Mr Doctor sir."

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 Post subject: Re: A Taste of Winter
PostPosted: Thu Aug 27, 2015 6:15 pm GMT 
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"Quite so." From the faint, lingering imprint of the couch cushion on Jet's cheek, Han could tell he'd awakened him, and regretted having done so. He had also grown accustomed to seeing Jet's life as a fleeting, precious thing--like any life, then, really. Fortunately, he'd had the good sense not to mention this to Jet. That boy had been fretted over enough for a lifetime. So when his eye fell on the dampness lingering in the fabric of his shirtfront and around the collar, he did not tell him he ought to go right away and change. Instead he merely arched a brow and said, "I see you've been dabbling in high fashion yourself."

Turning to the cupboard, he lifted down two mugs, both cheaply made. One was chipped, and the other sported an ominous-looking crack running halfway down the side, although thus far it has yet to spring a leak. The kettle had already begun to hum. Even after all this time, Han had acquired neither a strainer nor a proper teapot, and so while he waited for the water to come to a boil, he merely sprinkled a sparse layer of tea leaves into the bottom of each cup. The effect was vaguely melancholy.

"It's strange, really, how little I feel I've seen of you since we've been back." Of course it felt that way, compared to the still, bright days in Cape Town, the train to Pretoria, the clear, cool voyage back across the open ocean. There had been so much to do, stepping back into a life that had been on hold for so long. "As the authority figure in this household, I'm afraid I've been remiss in my duties. You are, I hope, staying out of trouble."

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 Post subject: Re: A Taste of Winter
PostPosted: Fri Aug 28, 2015 1:28 am GMT 
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He plucked at his shirt with a winsom smile a little as Han cast an appraising eye over it. The message wasn't exactly cryptic. With still sleep-clumsy fingers he began to unbutton it as he walked out of the kitchen and over to the chest of drawers in the living room-- and halted only for a moment, face lost in the fabric as he drew it over his head and heard Han's last words.

His steps continued. He pulled off the damp clothing, folded it, set it aside. Ran his palm experimentally across his body. That damp would dry up soon, no need to fret. He started to draw on another shirt.

"Hah, what, miss me?" Straightened the collar, buttoned from the bottom up. He remembered the rain streaking hers, and the warmth of her shoulders through the wet cloth. "Oh, you know, the usual. Setting up crime syndicates, a bit of petty theft... Not the mention the gambling." Tears running unchecked down her-- His hands clenched, a button slipped free.

Breath in, breath out. He rested his palms against the wall, straightened his hands and looked ahead at the scuffed paint. He could imagine Han at the counter, tapping those spoons-- he could hear the ceramic clink. Just going on, cracking on with life, and entirely under the impression the boy he had taken in as a son hadn't just broken anything beyond repair. His voice remained remarkably light. Something in him had expected it to crack at least twice before now.

He was glad there was a doorway between them.

"You know, that being said, something else happened today." Sound blasé, that was the key. Then Han might think he was joking. "Ran into an old flame. Received a hiding. Wants to meet you actually, although we seem a bit past the point of introducing each other to our parents."

They way he said it was so cheery and jocular you might have thought he met her stepping out of the fictional casino. Out of Han's sight, his fingernails dragged across the discoloured paint.

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 Post subject: Re: A Taste of Winter
PostPosted: Sun Aug 30, 2015 8:34 am GMT 
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In his distracted state, he nearly laughed. After all, the mere idea that Jet might have anything that would qualify as an old flame was equal parts humorous and unsettling. After all, he was hardly old enough to--hm. His hand stilled over the tea leaves. Mentally, he calculated Jet's age now. How long they'd been in South Africa. How old Jet had been when they first met. What had Han been doing at that age? Finishing up at boarding school, playing rugby. Normal, innocent boyhood pursuits--excepting, obviously, his burgeoning secret life with the family's garden boy.

Inwardly, he cringed.

The kettle's hiss was escalating into a full-on scream, so he turned off the gas, grabbed a towel and lifted it off the heat. He was grateful for the interruption. He needed a moment to gather his thoughts. He found himself reflecting on the men he'd known back in 1918. He'd been almost thirty then--ancient, in their eyes--and they'd looked like children to him. The war had aged them quickly. It was not implausible that living on the streets, with a terminal illness no less, had had a similar effect on Jet, though Han didn't like to think about this. It was a time in Jet's life they rarely, if ever, discussed. Not unlike Han's war.

And there was something else, too. When Jet had first moved in, he'd been much more independent. Han had been busy with work, and had essentially conceived of himself as offering a roof over Jet's head and three square meals a day. Well, perhaps 'square meals' was a bit of a stretch, but even so. Jet needed a place to stay, and Han had more room than he'd ever used, and nothing worth stealing besides. Things had been easy then. They'd known very little about each other, and Jet had, for the most part, continued to manage his own life. There was still a great deal they didn't know, and perhaps never would. And now with Jet's voice echoing back to him in that artificially breezy tone, it was hard not to assume the worst.

He poured the hot water into the cups, and watched as the tea leaves swirled and sank in the darkening liquid. Steam rose in lazy curls.

"Jet," he called at long last, unable to mask the wariness in his otherwise carefully neutral voice. "Are you trying to tell me you got a girl pregnant?"

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Hey kid.
 Post subject: Re: A Taste of Winter
PostPosted: Sun Aug 30, 2015 9:28 am GMT 
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Location: Probably a lab. Wishing I was in bed.
Custom Title: Hey kid.
There was a very long silence.

It may have been one of fear-- a wretched sort of terror that numbs you and chases the words from your mouth when truth arrives to manacle you. Perhaps his eyes were closed, and his face pressed tight against ashamed hands.

Then came the sound of a sob, or something like it. A sort of gasp, harsh and light crept through the open door as the scent of tea rose with the steam. For that very long silence, it seemed like the only answer was a quiet and resounding- Yes.

What felt like an age passed, punctuated only by those stifled sounds.

When he finally emerged, Jet slumped on a shoulder against the doorframe and gazed across at Han. A hand fell from his grinning face with a hopeless shrug, his grin wide with that treacherous laugh.

"Christ, Han. How much game do you think I have?" His voice was rich with a sort of deadened mirth. There was, however, no denying the startled and slightly wicked look in his eyes. "We've barely been back two weeks."

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