K. (infinitemonkeys) wrote,

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For cofax7 on the occasion of her birthday, because she asked …

You said you'd care for something writey, so here some is. I'd write Stargate but I am so clueless about it that it would be pointless

This will eventually be five things that never happened to Rupert Giles but these are the only three that are finished thus far. Plans to finish the other two got Derailed By Events this week.

Very much unbeta-ed, particularly the last. I was hoping there'd be a few more laughs in the finished product

"I had very definite plans about my future.
I was going to be a fighter pilot. Or possibly
a grocer. "

~ + ~ + ~ + ~

Calloway has met Rupert Giles three times before.

Once as a bright and beloved boy, when Ella came down to London on Council business and decided it was time for her grandson and her oldest friend to meet at Claridges. Rupert said he wanted to be an explorer and sailed his toy boat across a white tablecloth sea while they drank tea from Ceylon and ate sweets from Persia. Neither of them had the heart to tell him his future was already mapped out.

Once at Ella's funeral, six years later, when Rupert was a gangly, lost 13-year-old in an ill-fitting suit, tongue-tied by grief.

Once three summers ago when he was dragged before the council that first time; after Ripper and Rayne had been caught trying to smuggle the five remaining chapters of the Malleus Daemonicus out of the John Rylands Library using a hollowed-out Blue Peter annual. Young Giles had sneered at his punishment, an arrogant angry youth who hadn't the least idea of the real damage that book could do. Edward Giles had watched, impassive and stern, as the Council delivered its judgment on his son, only the tense white columns of his neck betraying his shame.

And now. Hard to believe that this is the same swaggering boy who raised hell.

This man is thin and shivery and stuttery in speech and movement. They shaved his head during his last stay in hospital; Giles runs his hand through the bristly strands as though he's merely misplaced his hair and is only just discovering that it is gone.

He's hiding behind a wall of ancient books in the far corner of the library completing the final task: a timed monograph on the Pedraza Codex. The ancient prophecies defeat some of their keenest minds. The fragile pages contain dances of death and rains of entrails, showers of blood and rose petals, but not much sense. It's standard practice to ask the trainees to wring some truth out of the drug-addled, apocalyptic poetry, knowing they will fail. All watchers fail in the end; it's something they have to get used to.

Giles sighs, taps a pencil against his teeth, takes off his wirerim glasses and bunches his fist into his eyes and for a second Calloway sees the little boy who dreamed of sleeping under foreign stars.

But even Giles knows that only Ella's good name and Calloway's plea for clemency won him a second chance. Peabody is up in the gallery right now. Watching. Judging.

He wishes he'd postponed his retirement long enough to slap down people like Alistair Peabody. He doesn't like Quentin Travers much but the man didn't deserve to be ousted by someone like Peabody, who has no respect for tradition.

Calloway most emphatically does not care for the new breed, the councillors who took over at the same time as Thatcher did. They're all smooth talk, sharky smiles and a knife in the back.

He is glad Ella isn't there to see the complacent princelings edging their fat backsides into the council thrones, talking about modernisation while dipping their fingers into the rich coffers -- as if money was of any account when the portents of the coming apocalypse are so plain that they could be read by some girl with a cup full of tea leaves and the merest flicker of the gift.

"What do you think, Calloway, old man?" Archie asks, running a knuckle along the deep lines scoring his brow and flicking a glance at Peabody.

"There are still grave doubts," Calloway replies. "They think he might misuse the information."

"Oh, for Pete's sake..."

"How's his work since they stopped the medication?"

Archie's thin lips curl into a smile. "With more training, it could be exemplary. And he seems to have found a real passion for the mission." His eyes narrow with fondness. "Starting to remind me of Ella, actually; he's just as sneaky..."

"...And that's something you want to encourage?" Neither of them noticed Peabody leave the gallery, much less materialise behind them.

"I should say so, yes." Archie says. "He has a fine brain and a real gift for the arcane."

"It's the way he uses the gift that worries me."

"He's done with that," Archie is stung now. "I have his word."

"What's a murderer's word worth these days?" Peabody asks.

"That's a little strong, don't you think?" says Calloway, keeping his voice even. "It was a foolish prank with tragic consequences and they paid a heavy price for it."

"Well, *some* did." Peabody waves a hand dismissively. "Nevertheless, not the sort of example this organisation should set."

Calloway can see Archie's anger rising, his cheeks flushing. Keep your temper, old friend, he thinks, trying to catch Archie's eye. Don't hand him the victory.

"No sort of example, Alistair?" Archie spits, his Scottish accent beating through 30 years of southern living. "What about the 200 years his family has spent loyally serving the council?"

Calloway groans inwardly; he can almost feel Peabody puffing up like a snake about to strike.

"Loyalty shouldn't be a factor in a modern organisation," Peabody says.

Giles has heard Archie's raised voice and pushed a couple of heavy volumes aside to make a window in his wall of books. He licks his lower lip nervously.

"I'm don't think Rupert has any prospects with us," Peabody finishes, his expression all insincere regret.

Giles's eyes squeeze shut. His nerveless fingers drop the pencil. It rolls across his pad and clatters like percussion on the parquet floor. Peabody and Archie turn to look at him and, embarrassed, he ducks below the desk, his fingers deliberately seeking the pencil in all the wrong places so he doesn't have to face his disappointed mentor just yet.

"I'll fight this. He'll pass all your bloody tests with flying colours, and then what will you say?" Archie says, low and furious.

"I'm sure he has a bright future," says Peabody. "Elsewhere."

~ + ~ + ~ + ~

"I know who you are, Rupert, and I know what
you're capable of.  But they don't, do they?
They have no idea where you come from."

Fuck England and the pissing-down rain. Fuck being packed into a crush of little houses like gannets crowding an inch of rock and calling that home.

Fuck the high-pitched whine of millions of people moaning about their lives then saying "mustn't grumble". Fuck saying please and thank you all the time like a socially anxious parrot.

Fuck the Proms and this sceptred isle and fuck the queen -- she looked like she needed it.

And most of all, fuck the Metropolitan Police for putting CCTV footage of him and Ethan robbing that Hatton Garden jeweller on Crimewatch, because that's where it all went pear-shaped.

It wasn't as though they were after old Johnny Gilbert's retirement stash; they only took one small bag of easily saleable uncuts as payment for their trouble. They were doing a job for Caradwath, who wanted his amulet back sharpish -- something to do with resurrecting one of his dead lovers for Beltane; Ripper hadn't really cared about the details, just that it might get them off Caradwath's shitlist.

Ethan's incantation was meant to disable all the electronics in the building, but somehow the cameras carried on working. The first he had found out about it was watching the BBC one night and seeing grainy pictures of two jeans-clad figures strolling through Johnny Gilbert's shop, casually smashing up the display cases and putting a binding charm on Gilbert's bitch of a daughter.

"Note the violence," said Nick Ross in his best concerned BBC voice. On the screen, Bernice Gilbert fell over as if poleaxed, thanks to Ethan's spell. "See how these thugs threw a heavy object at Mr Gilbert's daughter, putting her into a coma for two days."

"*That* is a fucking *lie*," an arch voice said and two arms wound around him from behind. Ripper wriggled and Ethan took the hint and let go, moving round the sofa to fling himself on the cushions. "I didn't touch a thing. And she'd have done it to me if I hadn't done it to her."

They watched their monochromatic smallscreen selves deliver Caradwath's warning to Johnny Gilbert and empty the tray of uncuts into an HMV carrier bag.

"This is very, very bad," Ripper murmured.

Ethan sniffed and cocked his head to one side. "Oh, I don't know. I think we look very handsome. Black and white suits you."

"We're not even up shit creek without a paddle. This is shit estuary and we have no canoe. We don't even have a rubber ring."

"Speak for yourself" Ethan was laughing.

"Fuck's sake, can you be serious!" Ripper yelled, smacking his fist onto the coffee table so hard that the beer cans tipped over and rolled onto the carpet.

Ethan's eyebrows drew together above his sharp nose. "Ripper, you're being melodramatic and it doesn't suit you. You're supposed to be the sensible one."

Waves of irritation crashed over him. "Ethan, we are on *television*. Now, not only is the council after us, so are the police and so is Caradwath, for drawing undue attention."

"I think I would prefer the police to catch us," Ethan said after a moment. "The council would bore us to death and Caradwath is too fond of the sharp and shiny."

One of his elegant hands had wandered over to Ripper's thigh and was picking its way up the inside seam of his jeans, which was thoroughly distracting. He turned to face Ethan, who had grown serious, as though his own worry was infectious. "I'd rather no one caught us at all," Ripper said, all anger gone now. "I think we should leave the country. Make ourselves very scarce."

"Scarcer than a virgin in Norfolk. But where?"

"There's a hellmouth..."

"In California." Ethan smiled. "Perfect."

When he'd been in training at the Council, there had been talk of his assignment being California, where a potential with a little more than the usual potential had been found. He'd even read a Rough Guide, bought a Beach Boys CD...

Then Ethan came back, with wicked eyes, a daggery smile and another of those plans that couldn't possibly fail and suddenly he was Ripper again, shucking off the Watcher-to-be personality like an ill-fitting jacket. The guilty conscience was a small, quiet voice, easily shushed in the end.

It was just as well really, neither watcher nor slayer had lasted a year near the California hellmouth. They'd died stopping some vampire master or other. The Wyndam-Prices had held a huge wake for their son, whom they much preferred as a hero, even if that meant him suffering a slight case of dead.

Giles had known somewhere deep inside that he would only mess it up if he became some poor little sod's watcher, whereas Ripper was pretty good at being Ethan's watcher. He kept the plans tidy, stopped him from being too ruthless or too reckless. Well, usually.

Ripper was silent for a moment as he imagined his every silver screen fantasy coming true: driving down the Pacific highway in a convertible, making plans with Ethan for the next job and a suitcase full of ill-gotten in the boot. Hotel rooms and beaches and San Francisco.

Then he had second thoughts. And third ones. "What?" said Ethan, studying his face.

"Wolfram and Hart. Big office in LA and I'm pretty sure they do lots of business with Caradwath."

"Fuck it. Let's go anyway. We could fly under the radar."

Ripper smiled as he got up and made for the bookcase. "You've never flown under the radar in your life."

Ethan's hooded eyes followed him. "I can do stealth, Ripper" he said evenly.

"If you say so," Ripper murmured, turning his attention to the shelves. His copy of The Shadow Cartography was a nasty 1960s paperback produced at the height of the early 70s flirtation with dark arts, which made it uglier than the large leatherbound Victorian original but a hell of a lot easier to shove down the back of his pants as he sneaked out of Henry Pordes.

"There's another hellmouth over there," he said, scanning one of the maps. "Cleveland. Appropriate." He flicked the page over to the next map where an ugly pentacle/wizard combination illustration indicated true north. Good god, had *no one* had any taste for that entire decade?

"How about Spain?" Ripper had always liked Spain. Nice wine and olives the size of your bollocks. "We could hole up there for the winter. Get ourselves a hacienda." No response. He looked back at the sofa. No one was there to listen. He shifted and peered into the kitchen but it was empty. He turned back towards the shelves... "Eth...?"

Only to stop dead, his breath caught in his throat. His nose was almost touching Ethan's, his eyes almost crossing as they struggled to refocus to meet Ethan's merry, dark gaze.

"Wha... what... how did you do that?"

"Told you I could do stealth," Ethan said. "It's a glamour. Clever little thing. Doesn't last long but I could teach you..." The corner of his mouth curled upwards, exposing his sharp, white teeth, the cocky little bastard. He was so close that when he breathed out, his upper torso touched Ripper's chest. It would be so easy just to lean in, to kiss him, to run a finger down Ethan's stubble like a match on sandpaper and let the long, slow burn spread across their bodies...

...but that was how fuck-ups kept happening. Distraction and lack of planning.

Ripper took a step back, very deliberately, and let himself breathe deeply again. "So. Spain. There's a demonic locus near the Mediterranean coast."

Ethan snorted. "That's called the Costa del Sol. It's full of sunburnt drunks from Dagenham. Can't we go to California?" He shuffled closer once more, a hand on Ripper's shoulder, then smoothing down his bicep. "You. Me. Beaches. A bit of bloody sunshine for a change. Dozens of demon contacts we can work."

"Evil lawyers. Earthquakes. Armed police. Health nuts. Ronald Reagan."

Ethan sighed and Ripper knew he'd won -- for now. "Spain it is."

~ + ~ + ~ + ~

"The good guys are always stalwart and true,
the bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy
horns or black hats, and, uh, we always defeat them
and save the day. No one ever dies, and everybody
lives happily ever after. "

Her return from the dead was his dream come true, literally.

He couldn't face going west to the flat in Bath. He didn't want to go out. He particularly didn't want to speak to Willow, though she was always calling. She wanted to know why he'd disappeared without any word. She told his answering machine that she was worried. She felt abandoned by him and didn't understand. She was angry. She felt she had failed.

Well, so did he.

Most of all she was grieving for Buffy. "I just want her back," Willow said, sobbing across a crackly satellite line at 6am GMT.

Too bad, he thought with venom. That's something you don't get to decide.

It sounded as though they were coping though; nothing too terrible was happening considering they lived on a hellmouth. They were getting on with their lives. He supposed he should be getting on with his.

He had hoped that being back in his cramped and dusty London flat would help: a mental burial to match the grim ceremonies he had attended in Sunnydale.

She'd never been in London or known about that part of his life; none of the places should have been a reminder, but somehow everywhere was. The squawking brightly clothed teenagers that flocked in the streets like parrots reminded him of the sweet, silly schoolgirl. Every pretty young woman moving through the Oxford Street crowds with purpose reminded him of the beautiful, determined person she was becoming.

When he was asleep things were different.

She walks into her mother's kitchen, or the library -- sometimes his bedroom but he prefers not to dwell on that -- covered in long streaks of dust, her boots dreadfully scuffed from picking her way out of the rubble.

He watches open-mouthed as she bemoans the loss of yet more quality footwear to the forces of darkness. "It's like they *know* I'm wearing the Italian leather ones. Now that's what I call evil genius."

"But you're dead," he says each time, confused but happy.

"Giles, do I *look* dead to you? Or undead? Or any variation on the theme?" she asks, then turns to look into the mirror. Her nose wrinkles in displeasure. "Ugh, it's this damned cement dust, it makes me look like Marilyn Manson's uglier twin."

He hugs her close. She's warm. "But you *fell*" he whispers.

Her grasp around him tightens for a moment. "But I got up, Giles. I got up again."

It was usually then, when he was dazed with hope, that he woke up.

At the council, people were far kinder than he had expected, but he wanted to avoid them anyway.

The exception to that rule, Archie, looking frail but still sharp as a tack, had turned up on his doorstep one night with a dusty bottle of Lagavulin and distracting gossip about the usual prophecies of destruction for the council -- they had a bee in the collective bonnet about some phrase that was turning up in all the divination lately. From beneath you, it does something or other. Giles wasn't listening that hard, he just found Archie's burr comforting.

Archie barely mentioned her until the last toast of the bottle, when he raised the tumbler high, golden liquid catching the light from the fire. "To your lassie," he said. "God rest her soul."

Giles pushed his fingers under his glasses, swiped a thumb and forefinger from the corner of his eyes to the bridge of his nose. Words were dust in his mouth.

Archie understood. He'd once been a Watcher himself. "It's a terrible business but you did a fine job, all told."

"No, I didn't," Giles rasped. "Archie, I've done things ..."

He wanted to throw his glass in the fire and scream and rail against the idea that he was part of some long, sad procession of brave young women who'd been sent to their deaths and the men and women who had failed them. Instead he drained his glass, felt as though his voice was pouring down his throat with the malt.

"I know how it goes, Giles," Archie said, patting his arm. "You did the right thing."

There was a long silence. Then "How do I know?"

Archie's rheumy eyes narrowed, the cracked leather of his face betraying his concern. "Tell me, son," he murmured. "You're best off telling someone."

Giles had swum underwater through the deadening months after her sacrifice. People had spoken to him and he was quite sure he had replied, but he didn't really hear much of it. He was trying to do The Right Thing, though he wasn't sure what that was any more.

The quotidian fetching and carrying involved in running The Magic Box fell on Anya's shoulders, which was all right as long as he let her count the money.

Slaying he mostly left to Willow, who seemed to have a real taste for organising the troops now.

Meanwhile, Dawn spent a lot of time with Spike, which he supposed should have concerned him only he seemed to be good with the girl. Better than Giles could be, anyway. No matter how fond he was of her, Giles would have swapped ten of Dawn to have Buffy back and Dawn knew it.

Traditionally when Watchers responsibilities are discharged -- if they remain corporeal, human and sane -- they return to the organisation to pass on what they learned.

Giles was no longer closely affiliated to the organisation but they had made friendly overtures. He had kept his charge alive for longer than usual, defeated a hellgod, murdered her human avatar and averted an apocalypse. Of course they were going to invite him around for tea and 20 questions.

So he'd planned to leave, even though something always kept him from actually catching the plane. Fondness for the others. Perhaps a little fear at his future, which was undefined for the first time since his tenth birthday.

He hadn't suspected a thing until the call from Farooq the day the demon bikers came to town. Farooq had tracked down an urn of Osiris, did Giles still want it?

The uses of an urn of Osiris were very specific. God knew he'd been tempted more than once to turn to the darker volumes of his library but he didn't need a tattoo to remind him that necromancy was dangerous and the price of a resurrection was more than anyone could afford.

He changed his plane ticket, grabbed a sword and went in search of Willow, praying he wasn't right. She was certainly powerful enough but surely she wasn't so foolish...

The cemetery was crawling with bikers and more than one of them sped past only to decide that a middle-aged man in a leather jacket with katana was not someone they wanted to meddle with. He called for Willow but the air was filled with the feral roar of motorbike engines and the smell of gasoline fumes. Fire licked the horizon.

The churned earth of the grave made his stomach crawl. Shards of pottery and bloody material mixed with the soil. A terrible dark vacancy in the centre where it had pushed its way free.

It was walking slowly, jerkily, just a little way away. It didn't even look much like her. Yes, of course, the features were the same, but that frightened, vacant stare?

He gripped the hilt so hard that he could feel every subtle groove of the grain on the tsuka, took a swing as if about to hit a six way past the pavilion…

… then felt every ounce of strength drain from his muscles at the familiar tilt of her head. The end of the blade cut into the ground.

"Buffy?" It was barely a murmur. He waited for the smart alec response, for any sort of familiar glimmer in her eyes.

No. Its eyes. Its dead eyes. It.

He swung the blade.


* * *

The Black Swan, Oxford, 1991

Tom was drinking as if hangovers were as much a part of reality as the tooth fairy in a pub where being gown rather than town was likely to end in broken teeth. He didn't much care. It was as good a place as any for a wake for his relationship, his university career, his life.

At the moment he was mourning how much alcohol it took him to get pissed. Three beers, two chasers, and it hadn't taken the edge off this shitty day yet.

"Mind if I join you?" The man's voice came from behind him. London accent. Familiar and yet not.

Politeness was still so ingrained in Tom that a few beers couldn't wash it away. He didn't give an honest answer. "It's a free country," he grunted and knocked back the vodka chaser.

There was a soft laugh. "Yes, old son, I'm sure you think it is."

And what the fuck did he mean by that? Tom gazed down at the dark, dented mahogany of the bar, his finger breaking the surface tension of a puddle of warm ale, pulling the sign for infinity out of it over and over.

He'd been here an hour but he didn't feel drunker, just poorer. Susan still hated him.

A bar stool scraped on the wooden floor, obscenely loud to his ears. He looked across in irritation and almost toppled off his bar stool with surprise. "What are you doing here?" The sentence almost ended in a squeak.

The man gave him a cool, appraising stare. "Came to see you, of course."

Tom was trying for poker-faced, but was sure he probably just looked constipated. "I thought this was settled, Detective Inspector."

"Well, there's your first mistake." His companion unzipped his leather jacket and pulled out a packet of Marlboro Reds -- soft packet, the fine print that told you how fast they were going to kill you was written in Arabic -- and his wallet. He slid onto the bar stool with an easy grace, and shucked the jacket off his shoulders to reveal a very un-detective inspector-like black T-shirt. He looked Tom up and down, apparently amused.

Tom felt panic begin to crawl up from his gut, the same acid clawing he had felt that morning when Francis fucking Cordell told him there was a Detective Inspector Peter Salter waiting at the Porter's Lodge to interview him about fraud, deception and theft of university funds. The police had already spoken to Susan and Patrick, he said. Then Cordell had smirked, the smarmy bastard, as DI Salter led Tom into Dr Pearings' office.

And now DI Salter was here again.

"I didn't do *anything* wrong," Tom said through gritted teeth. "None of it was technically illegal."

"Technically? No. But investing the Social Justice Society's entire grant in the stock market without telling them doesn't make you Mother bloody Teresa either."

"Patrick and Susan co-signed the forms. We all wanted to raise the money."

"Patrick Reader is permanently stoned, which is probably the best way to get through the philosophy degree hereabouts, and you've been shagging Susan Mackay on and off since the second year. Neither of them has enough brains to fill a thimble."

He felt compelled to defend Susan's honour (not very compelled, mind you). "They're bright enough to be here."

"So they can pass exams. Hoo-bloody-rah." Salter held up a finger and the barmaid grinned and served him. She didn't ask what he wanted, just poured him a pint of Old Peculier.

"You're a regular here," Tom said.

"Ah, pissed yet observant. Yes, I'm all too familiar with this shithole."

Tom cringed, glanced around the pub, but no one had taken offence. Not one dirty look from the murky gloom of the snug. Salter grinned, tapping the cigarette packet on the bar so that one filter tip stood proud of the rest, a nifty party trick. He pursed his lips around it and with his left hand, sparked the zippo into an ostentatiously tall flame.

He proffered a cigarette to Tom, who shook his head. "Of course, you don't, do you," he said, slipping the packet back into his jacket. "Wise man."

Tom studied Salter. He was different. The fact that he had switched from blazer and tie to leather jacket and jeans was superficial. It was something more, something about his entire manner. That morning, as Dr Pearings looked on like a disappointed father, Salter had worked the whole story of the scam out of him, verbally roughing Tom up when he explained that the money had been returned, with enough profit to buy the half-share in the minibus, and disdainfully dismissing all explanations, as if he were auditioning for the role of bad cop in some cheap, American TV series. He'd moved fast, talked faster. Now Salter was all laidback confidence and friendliness. It unnerved Tom.

"So, Tom Quinn, isn't this the party season? Shouldn't you be out twinkling your toes with the hooray Henrys at some ball or other?"

"I'm not a one of them."

"What, the idle rich arseholes? No, you're not. You grew up sharing a bedroom with your brother in a two-up, two-down in Newcastle. But I bet you like to pretend it was Knightsbridge, some days."

He could have got that information from his university files, thought Tom, even as a voice in the back of his head said that no file was that detailed. No matter how hard Tom tried to leave his past behind and become someone newer, freer, someone sussed him out. Last year, the Honourable Francis Cordell. This year, some copper.

Where the hell was this going? "Look, Detective Inspector Salter, if this is..."

The other man rolled his eyes. "Oh please," he said. "Call me Peter. This isn't an interrogation, I'm just..." Salter waved a hand airily, wafting cigarette smoke in Tom's direction, "passing the time of day, looking for good company."

"I'm not good company."

"Tonight or in general?"

Tom looked down into his vodka chaser. Susan had made it pretty plain she didn't want to see him and he had only bought tickets to the ball to please her. How many of 'their' friends were really her friends was not something he wanted to find out yet.

He tipped his head back and emptied the glass of vodka down his throat. He barely felt the burn.

"What brings you to the Mucky Duck... is it love or money?"


"Jesus, shall we see if we can make it to polysyllables this time?" Salter waved to the barmaid again, who began coaxing a couple more vodkas out of the parched optics "Love or money? It's always one of the two."

Tom stared into his empty glass for a moment, wondering whether he was going to wake up at any moment, cocooned in sheets drenched in beer sweat, wondering why he was having a bizarre dream about a police officer harrassing him in the Black Swan.

"Well, let me think... Dr Pearings said he was 'considering my future' with the college, my girlfriend may never talk to me again and I'm in trouble with the police. So I'm guessing that it's love *and* money and that my life may be completely fucked."

Salter was making 'calm down' gestures with one hand. Tom realised how loud his voice had become, and murmured "So you'll forgive me if I don't want to be best mates with you, detective inspector."

Salter nodded and nudged a glass in Tom's direction. "Still. Have a drink."

He took a swig from his own, narrowing his eyes in pain/pleasure. Tom hesitated, then nodded his thanks. No point turning down free booze.

"I'm not a detective inspector."

A mouthful of vodka scorched a path down towards his lungs, bringing tears to his eyes. He tried not to cough but that would have meant not breathing for say, the next day or two. For what seemed like five minutes but was probably less than 15 seconds, he whooped and choked. A large, warm hand pressed against his back and through the white noise of the coughing he heard Salter laughing.

"Bastard," he wheezed. "You did that deliberately."

"Yes," Salter said, pressing a cold glass into his hand.

"I don't want any more vodka."

"It's water, you arse," Salter said. "Drink. It'll help."

Tom felt the threat of vomiting recede and the barbed wire around his throat ease. The pub's other patrons had turned back to their own conversations. He sucked in an ice cube and held it on his tongue for a while. The slow trickle of ice was sobering him up. As soon as he caught his breath, he was going to go home and crawl into bed and try to pretend today hadn't happened.

"Is this some sort of cosmic joke?"

Tom hadn't realised he'd spoken aloud until Salter replied: "Very probably."

Salter watched, the corners of his mouth twitching upwards and his eyes searching Tom's face, and Tom found his curiosity overwhelmed his need to leave.

"Who the hell are you, then?" he mumbled around a mouthful of melting ice.

"Peter Salter; that bit was true. I know Dr Pearings."

"You can be jailed for impersonating a police officer, you know"

"Really? How shocking." The sarcasm dripped from Salter's tongue. "Don't be a pompous twat, Tom. So... your scam."

Tom spat the ice cube back into the glass and dragged his scattered thoughts together. "For the last time, it wasn't illegal. I mean yes, in a narrow, technical sense, I shouldn't have done it. But it wasn't a con, no matter what..."

"I thought it was brilliant," Salter interrupted. Surprise silenced Tom. "Not exactly cricket, as they say, but brilliant. How much was it that you made, four grand?

"Four thousand, four hundred and sixty pounds on an investment of about eight hundred quid. I was lucky; I read about the companies in one of the research papers this summer. Then it was just a matter of shuffling the money around."

"So what was the problem? Why isn't Susan here with her arms around you, muttering 'darling you were wonderful?'"

"She objected to the firms I invested in."

"Coleridge," Salter said.

Tom nodded. "I put it in arms firms, and that is," Tom made air quotes with his hands, "'incompatible with the pacifist-socialist philosophy at the root of the society's aims'. Or so Susan says.

"Me, I thought our job was to take poor kids out on day trips, give their parents a fucking break for five minutes, which is pretty difficult to do when the minibus is knackered. You can wank on all you like about social justice but it doesn't mean anything if all you do is create a 'meaningful dialogue'. I thought we were there to help other people, not kickstart the fucking revolution."

Salter began to laugh and Tom found his own mouth stretching into a smile, unwillingly at first, then broader. "Tom Quinn, reluctant Trot."

Tom shook his head. "I never wanted to change the world."

"So what did you want to do?"

"Shag Susan Mackay mostly. But I liked the work too." Salter smiled at this. Tom rubbed his eyes. He was more than half-drunk in the shittiest pub in town and this was possibly the weirdest day of his life. "What was the point of the charade this morning? Did Francis fucking Cordell pay you to wind me up?"

Salter shook his head and took a long drag from the stub of his cigarette, then looked at Tom directly, as if he'd reached some kind of decision in his mind. "What were you planning to do after graduation, Tom?"

"Can't you answer a straight question?"

"I try not to. What are your plans?"

Tom shrugged. "Depends on what I get for my degree, I guess."

Salter tutted with impatience. "You got a first, congratulations, what's next? The City?"

Tom's mind was still catching on the words 'you got a first'. Please, let that one thing from Salter's mouth not be bullshit, he thought.


"Maybe ... but I think you have to be really interested in money in its own right and I'm more interested in what it's used for. Plus, they're all wankers." He took a swig of beer, starting to relax again. "I thought maybe I would go for the Met's graduate training scheme. Well, until this morning, when I thought I might end up with a criminal record."

"I have a proposition for you," Salter shifted in his seat to look Tom in the eye. "Have you thought about government work?"

"Is that some kind of euphemism?"

Salter laughed. "In a way."

* * *

It is of course entirely a coincidence that both of these feature a character played by ASH. Totally.

And now, Amazon delivered my copy of Return of the King: Extended Edition this morning for some reason and I am going to take advantage of their jumping the gun.

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