Mugs of Tea in Bed
A Pink Dormouse Production
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"I don't usually cruise blokes in bookshops, but d'you want to have a drink with me and discuss those?" Ethan nodded to the pile of books that the other man carried.
Ethan leaned against the corner of a bookshelf in the Classics section, arms folded casually, while he waited for a reply. His opening clause had been true so far as it went; generally he simply hung around looking pretty, and waited for someone to pick him up. This time, though, he was after something specific, and he wanted to choose who he got it from.
"Which have you read?" the man asked, eyeing Ethan in a way that hinted he might want to share more than knowledge. He was reasonably good-looking, not that much older than Ethan, and, like Ethan, he was dressed less formally than most of the bookshop's customers.
"None of those," Ethan said, thinking quickly. "But I've read around the subject a bit, and I was wondering what to buy next." He had no intention of spending his own money -- what little there was -- but he was sure he could persuade someone to lend, or buy, reading material for him once he knew what he wanted.
He felt as if he should prove himself, and looked to the bookshelves for inspiration. If he concentrated hard enough, maybe one of the slimmer volumes would work itself loose -- like that -- and fall into his hand. He caught it, and flashed a smile of triumph at the other man.
"You're on," the man said. "I'll just pay for these, then we'll go for a pint." He started towards the counter, then paused and turned to look back at Ethan. "Are you new in town? I don't remember seeing you here before."
"Oh, I've been around for a while," Ethan said. "We've just missed running into each other until now."
Ethan constantly rewrote his life history. The original was remarkably dull -- neither glamorous, nor irredeemably horrific -- but he had yet to create a replacement version that did not become tedious after a week or so. This scene would have to feature in all subsequent inventions, especially since the chance of a repeat occurrence was uncertain.
He ought to leave now, before he had to face the disappointment of being thrown out, but he was comfortable. And Rupert was nuzzling his neck in a not-quite-awake sort of way. That felt right too, but Ethan was worried about what would happen when Rupert actually woke up. What made it worse was that when Ethan got nervous, things tended to happen. Bad things, wrong things, expensive-to-repair things -- none of which made him a popular guest to invite back another day.
There was an explosion of shattering glass from a far corner of the room. Ethan tensed, trying to remember what had been there last night. He thought it had been one of those narrow vases that held a single flower, with a dried rose in it. Theoretically, if he could break it from where he was, he could also fix it, but that was something he had never tried to do before. He had never needed to try it before, since he had never cared enough about anything he had broken, or about the items' owners.
Ethan shifted slightly, and stared through the near darkness to where the vase had been. He could make out the shape of the table it had stood on -- just -- but nothing more. He thought about shards of glass coming together and reforming into the object he remembered. Nothing happened.
He concentrated harder, and tried to picture the vase more clearly. Rupert stirred at his back.
"What's up?" Rupert murmured sleepily.
"Vase broke -- I'm fixing it."
"Go back to sleep. It's early bloody o'clock on a Saturday morning."
"But I need to fix it."
"It's just some cheap bit of tat Diedre found in the market -- never liked it anyway." Rupert shifted and his hand found Ethan's. "Now if it had been my guitar you exploded..." He nuzzled Ethan's neck again. "You get some more sleep; I'll deal with it later."
Fingers twined through fingers, and Ethan could feel power flowing between them. They had talked in the pub of the possibility of sharing magics, but then there had been more drinking, and they had only explored each other's bodies when they finally fell into Rupert's bed. He concentrated on the vase again, and this time he could feel the pieces fitting themselves back together again. As the last one slotted into place Rupert gave Ethan's hand a squeeze.
"Good. Now go back to sleep until a more civilised time."
Ethan could not fall asleep again just like that, even though Rupert seemed to manage it easily enough. He felt exhilarated, euphoric, and probably a whole bunch of other words that he needed to look up in a dictionary. He disentangled himself carefully from Rupert, slid out of bed, and padded across to where the vase stood.
It seemed unchanged from the night before, but the rose was lying on the table alongside the vase, rather than standing in it. Ethan replaced the rose, wondering how much more he and Rupert would be capable of together if they had a chance to get to know each other. It seemed an unlikely hope, and he started thinking about ways to take his mind off the idea.
The radiators were hot, and the flat was quiet, which suggested he could have a bath without giving anyone reason to complain. He located his duffle bag, and dug a towel out of it -- not that Ethan cared about wandering around other people's homes naked, but it was best to play things safe. He slung the towel round his waist, picked up the bag, and headed out of the bedroom.
Half an hour later Ethan was drinking tea and working his way through the packet of fags he had found on the table. He had given up the book in favour of an increasingly complex story of his own devising in which he lived here with Rupert and Rupert's various, very cool, friends. At some point, Ethan knew, one or other of the flat's real occupants would get up and ruin the whole fantasy, but he would enjoy it while he could.
The door opened and a strawberry blonde wearing a black and gold velvet robe drifted in. She smiled at Ethan, then filled the kettle, and set it to boil.
Ethan pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, wondering how long it would take her to throw him out. Ah, well, it had been fun while it lasted.
"D'you want another?" she asked.
Ethan looked at her in surprise, and nodded. He wondered distractedly if the fags belonged to her, and whether he should offer to replace them. He ought to: just in case, against all probability, Rupert did decide to invite him to visit again.
"Be right back." She drifted out again, then Ethan heard another door open and close.
He waited, and finished his fag.
The kitchen door opened, and a man looked in. He gave Ethan the once-over, then disappeared again.
"Who's that?" a man -- the same man, Ethan thought -- asked.
"No idea. Rupert's home, but I don't know about the others." The woman returned to the kitchen, as the kettle began to boil.
From beyond the kitchen door there came the sound of knuckles rapping on wood.
"Oy, Rupes, is that your rent-boy in the kitchen?"
Ethan pulled his knees closer to his chest. There was a clear distinction in his mind between prostitution and barter. As for extortion -- well, if someone was worried that Ethan might talk unless given money to keep quiet, then of course he was going to take it. What he did not do was sell his body for cash, and that was an important difference.
The woman turned to look at him. She shrugged, then turned away and finished making the tea.
From the hallway on the other side of the kitchen door there came the noise of a door being wrenched open.
"What did you just say?" Rupert asked angrily.
His question was followed by a thud that sounded suspiciously like a body hitting a wall.
Someone muttered something, but Ethan could not make out the words.
"What was that?" Rupert asked.
There was another, lesser, thud followed by more words Ethan could not make out.
In the kitchen the woman set two mugs on the table, and sat down opposite Ethan.
"Ignore them. I'm just surprised it's taken so long for someone to tear a strip off Clive."
Ethan let his feet drop back to the floor.
In the hallway there were further thuds, then doors opened and closed.
Ethan picked up a mug, and stared into the depths of the tea.
"So," the woman said. "Do you live round here?"
Ethan looked up, and shook his head. Right now he did not live anywhere; he just had a few places he could stay for two or three days at a time. He could hear water running in the bathroom.
"Patronius," the woman said looking at the cover of Ethan's book. "You read Latin?"
"And Greek," Ethan said, hoping she would not pry too deeply into why, or where, he had taught himself. "I want to learn Enochian next."
"Well, Rupert's the person to ask about that. The rest of us dabble, but he's actually serious about studying the occult."
"I'm serious about it too."
"I thought you might be." As she finished speaking, one of the other doors in the hallway creaked open.
Ethan decided to save the tale of the man he had stayed with, who claimed to be a mage, but was really just a pervert, for later.
There were footsteps in the hallway, then the kitchen door opened again and Rupert walked in. He was fully dressed, and his hair was slightly damp.
"I told Clive to get packed, and get out." He took a milk bottle from the fridge, and poured its contents into a glass.
"I can't say I'm surprised," the woman replied. "Are you going to tell Randall, or shall I?"
"I'll do it later." He glanced over at Ethan. "I see you two have met."
"Sort of. Feel free to introduce him properly."
"Okay," Rupert said. "Diedre, this is Ethan. Ethan, Diedre. She keeps the rest of us in line, don't you?"
"I wouldn't quite put it like that," she said.
Rupert and Diedre exchanged a series of what seemed to be meaningful looks, then she got up and walked out of the kitchen.
Rupert picked up his glass of milk, and followed her, closing the door behind him.
Ethan could hear their voices, but again could not make out the words. He decided to distract himself by making breakfast. If nothing else, it would delay the point where they asked him to leave; they seemed far too well brought-up to throw him out while he was eating.
"We've been talking," Diedre said. "It seems that we have an empty room."
"It's yours if you want it," Rupert added.
"I can probably scrape together a month's rent," Ethan said, trying not to sound too desperate. "But I'm not sure about the deposit."
"I don't think Randall's going to be too fussed about a deposit," Rupert said. "And we'll vouch for you, so don't worry about references." Given Clive's fate, the statement was not entirely reassuring.
"Okay, I'll take it," Ethan said, nonchalantly dipping a piece of toast into one of his eggs.
Rupert moved towards Ethan, then glanced at the clock on the wall.
"Christ, is that the time? I'd better be off." He pulled a set of keys out of his jeans pocket, and threw them on the table. Then he took a step towards Diedre. "You can have the car today, Diedre. Ethan might need you to move things for him."
Ethan said nothing. Everything he owned could be carried in one or two Tube journeys, although he would not turn down the offer of a lift.
Diedre began to make toast.
Rupert kissed her on the cheek, then turned and pulled Ethan to his feet.
"We'll continue yesterday's conversation tonight, shall we?" He kissed Ethan full on the lips, with just a hint of tongue, then left the room.
"He's not bad, as boyfriends go." Diedre brought her toast over to the table.
Ethan continued eating his breakfast, and tried to look unconcerned.
"If I'm interfering in anything, just tell me."
"You're not. Rupert and I are free agents who just happen to have sex with each other occasionally." She buttered her toast. "That doesn't bother you, does it?"
Ethan shook his head, then took a sip of tea.
"Good. Now, some house rules. One, don't use up all the hot water. Two, if you finish the milk -- " she glanced at the empty bottle on the sink " -- you'd better replace it. Three, don't leave eyeliner pencils lying around unless you want Rupert to write ideas down with them when he's inspired."
"I don't wear eyeliner." He took a bite of toast.
"It's a good rule anyway. Now what else?" She gave Ethan's arm a pointed look.
He tried to pull the sleeves of his T-shirt down to his elbows.
"Not any more." Ethan set his toast down, deciding that honesty, for once, was the best policy. He was not entirely sure what the people in the flat were capable of -- yet. "I never did it seriously; just if the people I was staying with were doing it."
"Good. Grass is fine, acid's fine, but I don't want the hassle of finding you dead one morning. I've got a career to think of, unlike some people, and the police going through all that we have here would do it no good at all."
"I won't go back to it," Ethan assured her. "I get a much better high from magic anyway."
Diedre nodded, and pulled a pouch from her dressing gown pocket.
"That makes perfect sense." She began to roll a joint. "You want some?"
The grass was better than most he had smoked. Randall, who seemed to own the flat, grew it somewhere outside London, and the flat's inhabitants stored it for him, in exchange for a fair share for themselves. Diedre was obviously more used to it than Ethan, because she could walk in a straight line, even with him hanging off her waist.
"Where to?" she asked, unlocking the passenger door.
"Kings Cross Station." Ethan's stuff was in two lockers there. He would need to go to the bank after the weekend, so he could draw money out for the rent. Diedre seemed to think that it would be okay for him to stay two more nights without paying anything.
She wanted him to sign on on Monday, and look into getting some qualifications too. Someone with his intelligence, she argued, ought to have a way of proving it to employers.
Ethan had thought about that in the past, but reasoned that he could make money out of his looks, and the occasional cash-in-hand job for some years yet. The dole would want to know his real name, and that might lead to others tracking him down. Besides, he had gathered from Rupert that he had enough latent talent to make serious money from magic - why should he look for ordinary work when he could be learning about that?
Ethan felt more at home than ever. These people actually did magic, rather than just talking about it. Philip and Thomas were still out 'tom-catting' as Diedre put it, but it sounded as if they were at least as interested in the occult as she was. She had reassured Ethan that they had far healthier attitudes towards who other people chose to shag than Clive did, but he was determined to get himself introduced as the new flatmate, before they heard anything about him and Rupert.
Ethan realised that he was getting used to the idea that there was a 'him and Rupert', and was warmed by that thought.
"What do you want to do about an altar?" Deirdre asked as Ethan finished putting his clothes away. "I think there's a table in the shop down the road that looks suitable, and you could call at the shop next to Rupert's work for everything else after you go to the dole on Monday."
"I'll ask Rupert about that," Ethan said. He was reluctant to piss either of them off, but had a feeling that Rupert was the one who would actually know what to do.
"Fair enough," Diedre said. "How about I get some booze and grass, and we christen this place?"
"Sounds good." Ethan settled himself on the bed, back against the headboard, legs stretched out in front of him. He needed to find out more from Diedre about how to stay in Rupert's good books. Ethan had no intention of going back to what he had had before; not now that he had seen all that he could have.
Still, he thought, at least they were getting along.
***Ethan was disorientated, but pleasantly so. He took stock of his situation: warm bed, warm room, and a warm body in the bed with him. Waking up here felt right, even if blokes never usually invited him to stay the night. Women did -- unless their husbands were expected home -- and there were plenty of girls who let him share a bed with them on the grounds that they thought he was 'safe'. This new thing: lying semi-conscious in Rupert's bed -- in Rupert's arms -- was something Ethan was going to remember for a long time.
***Ethan collected up his clothes from the night before, and stuffed them into the top of the bag, which he left by the main door of the flat in case he needed to beat a hasty retreat. He was still the only person moving, so he retreated to the kitchen with the book he had bought the previous day.
***He was just sitting back down with two boiled eggs and two rounds of toast, when the door opened, and Rupert and Diedre came back in.
***Rupert's car was a battered, rust-red 2CV. Ethan made no comment. Partly because he knew anything he said would get back to Rupert, but mostly because he was leaning on Diedre, and enjoying rubbing up against a fur coat whose owner had no expectations about his behaviour.
***Back at the flat Diedre helped Ethan clean out the last of Clive's stuff. Before he moved his stuff in, and rearranged the furniture a little, she fetched smudging sticks, and purified the room.
***When Rupert got in, much later than intended due to accidentally detouring to the pub with Philip and Thomas, he found Ethan and Diedre curled up on Clive's old bed. They were wrapped in Diedre's afghan, and there was a half-empty bottle of gin, two glasses and an over-flowing ashtray on the table next to them. It looked like his conversation with Ethan would have to wait until Sunday to be concluded.
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