fantasy

Fic: Corbel & Squinch, part 4

Fwee. Here's part 4, and I'm falling behind. Just need to bump up my daily average, I guess. Did about 2,000 words today, I think, which is pretty good. But you can tell that this hasn't really been proofread or anything, and there are all sorts of details that I'm going to have to fix later. So if something doesn't make sense, it'll probably get edited--eventually.

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"Gabe–" It couldn’t be right for him to sound so calm, not when he was white enough to be dead, not when his hands were visibly shaking.

*

Trust is a very odd thing. People’s lives are built upon it, but few realize this–and quite often only those who have lost nearly all trust. Every time someone sits in a chair, they are trusting that the chair will support them; every time they walk down the street, they are displaying their trust that no one will suddenly kill them for no apparent reason. Each relationship is full of invisible fault-lines papered over only in trust, and when that trust is broken, it is often a long time in returning–if it does so at all.

We are wounded most deeply by those we trust, and so trust them again less easily, whereas a stranger might win our trust with a single action, even after something which could be considered a betrayal. Absolute trust is the most dangerous of all: if betrayed by someone we thought could be trusted utterly, how can we grant it to anyone else? Betrayal by an enemy is merely a reminder of what he is; betrayal by a friend can be crippling.


‘Trust’, Corbel and Squinch’s Universal Compendium of Everything, unpublished entry


Ian normally woke to the sounds of Thomas hitting the snooze button on his alarm clock and pulling the covers up over his head. As wake-ups went, it was rather irritating. On this morning he was awakened by the clash of pots and the smell of eggs, and for a moment he panicked, unable to remember where he was. But before he had time to open his eyes, his body recognized what he was lying on: Gabe’s couch. He was in Gabe’s apartment, on his ugly couch, because the night before his father had stated his intention of withdrawing his financial support of Ian’s college career.

And Gabe had drugged him–had drugged his tea, of all things. Ian wasn’t sure whose betrayal hurt more. Although Gabe was currently cooking him something involving onions, and maybe eggs. Which wasn’t enough to get him off entirely, but it did lessen the fault. Especially if there was toast. Hot buttered toast made everything better.

He went in search of some.



When Ian finally emerged from the couch, Gabe was in the middle of dicing a potato he’d found lurking in the bottom of the icebox. He kept his head down, and continued dicing, allowing Ian to make the first move. By the time Ian spoke, the potato was practically powder.

"Do I smell oatmeal?" He didn’t sound particularly miffed, which mean he had either forgotten the close of the previous night, or had decided to save the drama until after he’d eaten. "And are you making hash browns?" Not waiting for an answer, he dug the milk out of the icebox and poured himself a glass. "It’s looking a little empty in there," he commented as he nudged the door shut.

"I’m going shopping this afternoon. There’s no bread left, or I’d make toast as well." Gabe scraped the finely-minced potato into the pan, on top of the onions. "Do you want cheese on your eggs?"

"Yes, thanks." That had changed, then. When they’d been younger, he’d insisted on his eggs being kept pure. Gabe, on the other hand, had always dumped everything available on his–a habit he’d retained despite the years. "I don’t suppose the oatmeal’s ready yet?"

"Give it another couple of minutes," Gabe counseled as he cracked an egg into the pan. "If you still like raisins in yours, I think there’s a box in the cupboard above the sink." The pan’s contents sizzled when he turned the up the heat under them. "They’re pretty old, though." After a minute’s searching, Ian pulled out a box and peered into it, wrinkling his nose as he did so.

"Yeah." He shoved the box into the trash. "Don’t think we want to eat those." Gabe shrugged, and continued chasing egg and bits of potato around the pan with a spatula.

After waiting another minute–he always had been irritatingly punctual as a child–Ian got himself a bowl of oatmeal and sat down to eat it cautiously. Although at the moment his only concern appeared to be eating, Gabe was fairly certain that wasn’t true. Ian was a genius when it came to appearing one way and actually being another. At one time Gabe would’ve been able to see what others couldn’t, but at the moment all he knew was that it was there; he was out of practice, and he shouldn’t have been. Stifling a sigh, he dumped the eggs onto a plate in front of Ian, who poked it with his spoon.

"Looks good." He glanced up at Gabe. "Is this some sort of silent apology, or do you always cook like this for uninvited guests?"

"Both, I suppose," Gabe admitted before applying himself to his own meal. "The hash browns are a bonus, though." Ian studied him briefly before trying his eggs.

"Apology accepted, then. Just don’t do it again."

"I’ll try not to." It was a sign of how well Ian knew him that he didn’t protest this non-promise. But he did frown at his plate as if it had done something to disappoint him. When he spoke again, he sounded young, and unsure of himself.

"I told you about my father last night, didn’t I?" Despite understanding how shaken Ian had to be by the event, Gabe had to resist the urge to ask what that had to do with anything.

"Yes," he said carefully, and wished he dared hunt down his uncle to give him a royal dressing-down. But that would most likely just make things worse, so instead he got up and put the kettle on to boil. "I suppose you don’t want any tea."

"Not after last night, no," Ian said a trifle ruefully, sounding more like himself. "I’m tempted not to trust you with any beverages of mine for a while." He stuck his emptied plate in the sink and yawned. "But I wouldn’t mind coffee, if you have any."

"Sorry," Gabe said, not sorry at all, "but I don’t. And if I did, I’d be tempted to drug it, just on principle." Ian snorted, and began washing their few dirty dishes. Watching him, Gabe was pleased to see that the sleep had done him good–although there were still circles under his eyes, his face wasn’t nearly as drawn as it had been, and he looked almost relaxed.

It was nice to have someone else do the washing up, for a change.

Acutely aware of how badly he was going to need the caffeine, he let his tea steep for a bit longer than he would normally; he’d slept a little–eventually–the night before, but not enough to do more than make him aware of how tired he was. The morning sunlight was helping, but it was going to be a long day.

He was just starting to feel the affects of the tea when Ian dropped the bottle of milk, which shattered against the floor and sent milk and glass shards flying across the kitchen floor. Gabe flinched, nearly dropping his tea mug, but Ian seemed oblivious to what he’d just done. He stared at the calendar on the wall beside the icebox, face blank with shock or panic–the picture of a man who’d just realized the world had ended without him noticing it.

"Gabe–" It couldn’t be right for him to sound so calm, not when he was white enough to be dead, not when his hands were visibly shaking. "Gabe, what am I going to do about Thanksgiving–and Christmas? I can’t possibly go home, but if I don’t go–" And although that wasn’t quite the same as the apocalypse, it had to feel pretty close to it. Gabe couldn’t keep from returning the blank look with one of his own.

"I don’t know–the holidays had completely slipped my mind." He stared at his mug for a moment before setting it on the counter, trying to imagine having to spend Christmas somewhere other than home, and failing to come up with any conceivable explanation for why he would need to so. "We’ll figure something out. You could come home with me, I suppose. But I think we’d better clean up this mess first."

The bottle had broken up into fairly large pieces with easily avoided edges, but there were enough almost-invisible slivers to make picking the pieces up out of the mess dangerous. They worked in silence, the only sounds the clink of glass on glass and the dripping of milk off their fingers. It seemed eerily symbolic of Ian’s life at the moment.

When they had finished mopping up the last of the milk, Gabe picked up his tea again. It was still warm, and he drained it before putting it in the sink, the dregs leaving a bitter taste in his mouth. Ian no longer looked like he should be dead, but his hands continued to shake slightly. Gabe studied him for a minute.

"Come home with me," he said at last. "If your folks call, you can say my mum insisted." it wouldn’t be quite a lie–Gabe’s mum would insist, if she knew all the particulars. And while Ian refused for some reason to lie to Gabe, he’d proven in the past to have no such qualms when it came to his family. Which probably said many interesting and necessarily good things about their relationship. "It’ll be good. Dad’s always asking after you, and you know that Mum makes an absolutely divine pie."

"All right," Ian said after a moment’s hesitation, although he said it without confidence. Gabe looked at the set of his shoulders, and the way in which he was staring at the table in front of him, and rinsed out his mug in silence. He’d call his parents that evening–he needed reinforcements.



And after? Once Lear and his family had been cleared away and some semblance of order impressed upon the remnants of the nobility, what then? Something like this, perhaps:


Afterwards, Edgar wished that he dared go to a tavern somewhere and get utterly drunk. But the sun was shining and the sky was blue, and he was now an earl–and the king was dead. He was alive and a lot of other people weren’t, so he stayed where he was, in the sunshine, and tried not to think much.

It was no surprise when the fool showed up a couple of hours later, although most of his motley was gone, and he might have been taken for any other down-on-his-luck fellow. Goodness knew there were a lot of them kicking about.

"Hello," Edgar said, and shifted over on the bench.

"Hello," the fool said back, and sat down after a moment’s hesitation. They sat for a couple of minutes in sun-soaked silence. "I’m out of a job now, I suppose," the fool said after a while, wryly, as though the death of a king were a minor thing. But Edgar had been there, at the end, and so didn’t take it the wrong way. "There doesn’t seem to be much call for a fool, now. Albany doesn’t seem the type of chap who’d keep one around."

"No, I suppose not," Edgar said, thinking over what he knew about Albany. He was the kind of man who would listen politely to his fool but miss entirely what was being said. And he probably wouldn’t laugh at the jokes, either.

"I didn’t recognize you, you know," the fool said, after another pause. "When you were the madman. I’m not sure whether I should feel guilty or impressed."

"My own father didn’t recognize me," Edgar pointed out, and then wished he hadn’t. Some things were still far too raw. "I almost didn’t recognize you, just now," he continued, not sure how that would be taken. The fool shrugged.

"Lear’s dead. So’s his fool. Whoever I now am, it’s not that anymore." And Edgar knew exactly what he meant, although he wished he didn’t. The fool glanced over at him, eyes seeing too much, and stood. "Let’s go find something to eat. I’m starving, and you’re an earl now–right?–and between us I’m sure we can get our hands on something edible."

Edgar got up, wordless, and followed after him toward the kitchens. He was earl now, and the fool wasn’t exactly a fool any more, but they were both still alive. And if the fool was out of a job, well, Edgar had just fallen into one. Things would work out. They always did.

‘King Lear’, Corbel & Squinch’s Universal Compendium of Everything, unpublished entry