Warnings: slash, murder, mentioning of sexual activity NOTHING GRAPHIC
Disclaimer: Nothing mine.
Note: the Prohibition ended 1933, so this story plays in 1933, well, most of it. Thanks to Fedge for the beta, and thanks to all of you out there for the comments. Feedback is love and makes me write faster!
Summary: The story of a killer and a piano player in the dark corners of NY's streets.
The drink is bitter, burning down the inside of his throat like liquid fire right down into the hole in his soul, hard and bitter; yeah, that fits the weather and his mood. He swallows hard and gulps down the entire glass of whiskey before setting it back on the counter. He always drinks whiskey; rum makes him dizzy and beer, well, just isn't enough. Whiskey however, yeah - whiskey is the welcoming fire in a cold night.
He can feel the burning down in his stomach, curling and uncurling like something living that makes him feel alive - something precious, which generally he doesn't have so much with the living. Oh, it has irony of sorts, whiskey is irony in pure liquid form; hard and biting and fine and smooth at the same time, when delivered the right way.
He chuckles and chokes; when was the last time someone called him smooth? When was the last time he laughed? Oh, hey, nobody ever called him smooth, that's not among the adjectives that could describe him, no, really not - laughing at the thought, ah no. Cold, hard and black, like polished marble in the sun, the black marble that grows on the graveyards like thorns on red rose bushes, the kind of thorns he could cut his flesh on and bleed to death.
The choking doesn't end there.
The bartender gives him the once over from his position. John can see it from the corner of his eye, he's confused, open, readable as a book.
"Are you alright son?"
He puts the cloth he's polishing the glasses with over his shoulder and walks over to John's end of the counter, taking the empty glass out of his reach.
"Yeah…" John lies, but he is good at that - always has been, ever since day one. "Give me another one."
"I don't think that's wise, son."
"It's really not your place to decide that," John drawls, but there is ice in his voice.
Normally people tend to shrink back and turn away when John is drunk. He is all laid back and calm, perfect control but sometimes he snaps, sometimes there is that moment people shouldn't be around him, sometimes he behaves the way he feels.
"Aye…" The man is taken by John's show for about ten seconds, looking him over from head to toe, but the walls crumble. "It's probably not."
He stares at John for a couple more seconds then there is a glass and he pours from the bottle of golden liquid, another shot, that's what John needs.
The man nods slowly and turns back to his glasses, never leaving John out of his sight. He can't take the blue gaze anymore and turns around, away from the bar and the counter, to the music.
It's too soft for this hour, just flowing along in the background, and the voice of the woman is as smooth as the whiskey is supposed to be but never really is. She's black and a beauty - and that is surprising, given the social strictures. He frowns, that she is even allowed to sing in the bar, but then everyone looks dark at night, and it's always dark in this kind of bar.
He closes his eyes and his mind floats with the lazy song, floats and wishes to fly, like a bird or a pilot. The memory is hard and cold, as hard and cold as he is supposed to be, and really isn't. Lost chances mock him in the shadows on the walls of his mind, and he has built a lot of walls, to contain all kinds of things.
He can smell the blood, warm and sticky on his skin, still fights with the urge to wipe his shoes clean where he has stepped through the blood of tonight's job. He'd cleaned his gun three times before he stored her away - she is dirty, as dirty as he feels.
He knows the names of his jobs. He can name every single one of them, every single one; from Sumner… to Gaul, every single one.
He can see their faces.
He opens his eyes again and they end up on the man at the piano. He's sweating and flushed, his eyes closed and his hands flying over the keys; it's perfection in every single note that drifts over him and John is sure the black woman would only sound half as good if the man didn't play along.
Then he stares, just stares for the entire song, for every word about a sad, sad love that never was and never should be. It's almost better than the whiskey, better than the heat of a smooth kill or a willing woman – not that he has so many truly willing that he doesn't have to pay for.
The song ends and the people groan and cheer, some yelling obscenities at the woman - she's still an unreachable beauty full of dignity, wrapped in a dream of dark blue silk and pearls. She isn't hit by any of the bad words or the curses, just raises her head and walks behind the curtain, dignity and grace.
The man on the piano is flustered and sweaty, eyes wide open as she leaves and God, those eyes, John thinks. It's probably the whiskey and the rainy night, the kill. He watches silently how the man gets up, wipes his hands on the black pants he wears and stalks over to the counter, how he ignores the drunk men and the words, the mutters.
"I hate these bastards…"
The barkeeper comes around and sets a glass with clear liquid down in front of the man, smiling patiently. "Aye," he says and leans on the counter. "I know, Rodney."
"She's a human like everyone else, why do those color fixated, narrow minded bastards not just see her as that?" He's angry and flustered, emptying the glass. "They're stupid, just idiots, all of them!"
"I wouldn't say that so loud, if I were you," Sheppard drawls in amusement.
John is surprised by his own words. It's his usual drawl, a smile accompanying it, and it seems like the first time the innocent-and-uninvolved act works out since the conflict with his boss last year.
"I speak as loud as I want…"
"Rodney…" The barkeeper rolls his eyes.
"What? Want to start calling Teyla names now as well? Huh, Carson? Does your wife know about that? Does Laura know what you want to call her friend?"
"Don't Rodney me. I have the right to say what I want as everyone else does, including Teyla! Everyone should be treated alike…"
The barkeeper, Carson, goes all wide eyed and Rodney seems to talk mainly with his hands and arms, gesturing as though playing his words on an invisible piano. John is amused, the guy is funny; has a death wish, but still seems funny. He can't help but chuckle and empties his glass finally.
"Oh and this is funny why exactly?"
"Oh nothing…" John waves his hand slightly, snickering.
"Then shut up, will you?!"
"Rodney…" Carson warns, or begs, impossible to tell.
John turns away and watches his empty glass. Rodney is complaining still. Loudly and in great detail, it makes him smile even more broadly. Minutes pass like this, then Rodney leaves, still muttering, all the way out of the doors and up the stairs.
There is movement at the corner of John's eye, it's a band of three or four bully men that make to follow the piano player. John can read them as he could read Carson. People are generally far too open with their eyes and gestures. He grabs what money he finds in his pockets and puts it on the counter, grabs his hat and pulls his coat collar up – because that's just like a uniform – and follows the four men outside.
There is not much choice of paths to follow in the pouring rain and he has a pretty good feeling where the others went.
He walks after the guys, hands in his pockets and doesn't know exactly why he cares. He walks easily past his car, the dark green Ford, and further down the street in the rain, watching how the four reach Rodney and drag him aside into a dark alley.
He doesn't know why he cares, but decides it's not important.
"Okay, hey, look, can't we talk about this? I bruise easily…"
"Heh, bruise easily, sure, that's why you get it on with the smooth nigger whore, don't you?"
One of the guys chuckles and John hears Rodney whine.
Their heads fly around, shadowed by darkness and rain.
"Piss off…!" One growls.
"Yeah, fuck off!"
Rodney's blue eyes are like flashlights in the half dark, wild and afraid. It's strangely inviting in some perverted kind of way.
"Sorry, can't…" John shrugs, hands still in his pockets.
They stare, for a fraction of a moment, then the first one attacks; he's all muscles and speed but really doesn't use it, so he's down with a couple of painfully broken ribs within a heartbeat. The other guy earns himself a couple of bruises next, and it's just John's years in the Family that let him do this so easily.
They lie on the ground and gasp, groaning in pain.
"I told you," he sighs.
The other two run for their lives and leave Rodney sitting in the dirt of the alley.
"Yeah, I…" John answers and offers a hand.
"You saved me…"
John pulls Rodney to his feet and steps back, adjusting his hat. "Be more careful next time."
Rodney looks after him as John leaves him there in the alley in the rain.