Chapter Three

I know a good one about a man and some curtains...

The "contest" was over and Bunny had come out on top. Skeeve hadn't even realized it was the presidency of MYTH Inc Aahz was pitting on their competition at first, but he wasn't concerned: it was definitely fitting, and more than deserved that in the competition between the two of them, Bunny won. Especially since he wasn't sure how things could have worked out if he or Aahz had beaten the other.

Now that that was out of the way, Skeeve had an important matter to take care of. It had just been underlined by the turnaround: Aahz had gone from being willing to kill when those Cake Masters had attacked him to antagonistic over the contest almost immediately, and while some of it was just Aahz's personality and upbringing, some of it was insecurity Skeeve was just learning to recognize in his unshakable mentor.

He'd been incredibly kind, especially for Aahz, when Skeeve had been recovering but when Skeeve no longer needed his protection, they were back to being...not enemies, but opposites. It wasn't a feeling Skeeve liked, but he recognized the causes.

Now he just had to figure out how to fix it. And the Humbees, apparently.

" want to go get a milkshake and have a brainstorming session?" he asked Aahz hopefully. He glanced quickly at Bunny, but she just nodded. Skeeve got the feeling she knew what he was trying to do.

Aahz wasn't completely clueless either, judging from the glance between the two of them, but he was game. "Sure, ki...Skeeve."

At that, Skeeve smiled brightly at him. "Great! My treat."

Aahz grinned and slung an arm around Skeeve's back to grab his opposite shoulder. "Music to my ears," he said steering them both out of the head office.

The Golden Arches were as clean as ever, and they got their milkshakes fast. After that there was an awkward pause as Skeeve tried to figure out how to start.

Aahz seemed a little uncomfortable as well, at least.

"Look, kid-"

"Aahz, I wanted-"

They both stopped, then Skeeve laughed a little and waived Aahz on.

Smiling a little, Aahz snorted and took a drink of his milkshake. "Skeeve. I should say...I never really thought you were sabotaging me."

Skeeve's eyebrows arched dangerously high at that, causing Aahz to scowl. "Well, I shouldn't have. If I'd really thought about it for two minutes, I would've known it wasn't you. You don't do things like that."

Skeeve swallowed, looking down into his milkshake. "No, I just abandon my friends and my livelihood for no good reason, right?"

Aahz looked uncomfortable again. "...look-"

Skeeve shook his head. "No, I understand why everyone -- why *you* felt that way. I didn't mean it like that, I never intended...geez, Aahz, hurting you is the last thing I ever wanted to do." Aahz watched him, face unreadable, but he'd started and he meant to continue. "I couldn't...I couldn't be a phony the rest of my life, Aahz. I want...I really want to be useful. I want to be someone everyone can depend on, not just as...the mascot, or something. Gleep and Buttercup are way better at that than me, anyway. I was sort of useless before, in everything but what you taught me about conning people."

Aahz nodded slowly, taking another pull of his milkshake. "I can see why you might have felt that way," he said finally.

Skeeve tugged on his ear, a habit he'd picked up somewhere in the months he'd been on Klah (or maybe that short, alleged stint on Perv). "I'm really sorry."

Aahz leaned back in his chair. "Why didn't you keep in touch?"

With him, because Skeeve had kept up with the others even just occasionally through Bunny. Skeeve winced, his hand dropping to join the other in his lap. They were both quiet for a few minutes. "I've had more wine this week than I have in months. I didn't behave well at all. I wanted...when you're around, what I want gets so focused. I wanted to get better all around, but when you're around I just wanted to be better for you, and we already did that, Aahz, I needed to be more." He bit his lip, shook his head. "It's no excuse, but I can be really weak sometimes..."

He chanced a look at Aahz, who was watching him blankly. Best to get it all out. "I'm also sorry about your powers. I was feeling pretty bad about it before I began studying, and just got worse. I just can't remember that stupid incantation."

They were quiet for a few minutes. "I was right about you being pretty stupid sometimes, kid."

Skeeve looked up sharply. "Aahz!"

He shook his head. "I forget how young you are," he explained. "You have to be stupid now so you aren't too stupid later."

Skeeve frowned, thinking of all the old timers they'd swindled over the years. "What about--"

"Didn't make enough mistakes as kids," Aahz interrupted. "So you felt bad for me, and can't control yourself around me."

Skeeve sat up. "I can! I just wasn't ready. I really think I can, though. I sort of have to because...if you're not completely against the idea, I'd like to ask Bunny to make us partners again."

Oh, this part was making him sort of ill. "I'd also like to say that my...intentions haven't changed." He licked his lips and forged ahead. "I understand if you aren't interested anymore, but I wanted to say that I'd like to, uh--"

He hadn't gotten to the part about asking a Pervect out on a date in his attempts to broaden his horizons. "Later, of course, after we get comfortable with each other again, and I make up for being a big idiot--"

Clawed hands over his mouth was an excellent way to shut him up. Aahz was finishing his milkshake. After swallowing, he set it down and dropped his hand from Skeeve's mouth. "Okay."

Skeeve blinked. "Really?"

Aahz shrugged. "Later, after we get used to each other again, we'll see," he said. "As for the incantation...why didn't you say it was bugging you that much? There's all sorts of temporary memory enhancements you can get for the short-term. Not exactly cheap, but if it's bothering you that much--"

"Yeah!" Skeeve leaned forward. "What kind? I've been looking all over for something like that!"

Aahz laughed softly. "Mostly they're underground, students use them a lot around finals on Perv. Let me make some calls, I'll let you know how much it'll cost."

Skeeve was so happy to be getting somewhere that he didn't care Aahz was making this sound like a favor when it would maybe get his powers back. "That'd be great, Aahz!"

Aahz shook his head, grinning. "I missed you."

They both froze, realizing that off the cuff, amused admittance was more meaningful than it might normally be. Skeeve set his milkshake down and hesitantly slid his hand beneath one of Aahz's broad hands and settled his other on top of it before his old mentor could lean back. He studied the contrast, the difference in textures.

Then he squeezed the hand he was holding because he couldn't hug Aahz the way he wanted to, yet. "Me too, Aahz."

Aahz returned the grip before he tugged his hand free. "Right, so I was thinking we should start in the Archive, get some more basic info on the Humbees."

Skeeve tried to blink away the dust that was irritating his eyes and nodded, glad for the emotional respite work provided. "That sounds good, but one thing."

Aahz frowned. "What's up?"

"What's an Ark Hive?"

Aahz blinked, then groaned. "Kid..."

Skeeve grinned at him. Aahz stared. "Did you just psych me out?"

Skeeve wasn't sure what that was, but the tone was about right. He lost the smirk and tried to look innocent. "What do you mean?"

Aahz gave him the gimlet eye for a minute, Skeeve holding the innocent facade the whole time. Then, about the same time, they both started laughing.


They had put a good foot forward, and Skeeve was ecstatic to realize working with Aahz was as fun as it ever had been once they eased back into each other's company.

Skeeve couldn't stop sneaking looks at Aahz when he could, and every now and then he felt like someone was looking at him, only to find Aahz absorbed in something else.

It wasn't the same as before, but that wasn't necessarily bad: Skeeve hadn't been ready to hold up his end of a more adult relationship with Aahz before, and now he thought he was.

They got rid of the Humbees. There were complications, of course, but in the end it had all worked out for the best. And they were back together, which was more payment than Skeeve could ask for. Not that he turned his nose up at his share of the money Bunny cut them all in on for their work, a payment from the collective merchants of the Bazaar for getting rid of the Humbees.

If nothing else, Aahz would've smacked him silly for even suggesting that they not take it, since they were partners and he was taking his share, so Skeeve better not try to make him look bad.

Skeeve was just happy they could still work together and that they'd gotten most of the issues between them cleared up. He tried not to be too much of a hassle when he could avoid it, but they'd still clashed a few times over methods during the investigation-turned-chaos. They'd weathered through them just fine and things were almost like before: maybe better, knowing that they could still argue with each other, but also that they could compromise without being forced to.

It had been rough sailing here and there while they got used to working together again, but Skeeve was happy. He had even had a chance to watch Aahz in action, finding it pretty satisfying considering what the Deveel had tried to say about Pervects in general and Aahz in particular.

Bunny could see the cleared skies too, if her satisfied smile on their triumphant return was any evidence. "Great job, you two. Glad to see you getting along. Take the rest of the day off to recuperate."

They both accepted gracefully and made way for Chumley.

Aahz paused in the hallway. "Hey, Skeeve, you want to head down to the tavern? I could tell you about a few of the cases you missed."

Skeeve hesitated, looking down. "I'd really like that, Aahz. It's just..."

"The liquor?"

Skeeve realized this was going to be an important test. Aahz had a cast iron liver, and he'd be drinking all the time: if Skeeve was going to be around him again, he'd have to be able to control himself. "Never mind, I'm in."

Aahz eyed him for a moment before shrugging in apparent nonchalance. "Let's shake it, then."

Skeeve didn't know what he was supposed to shake, and Aahz groaned at the confusion on his face before grabbing his arm and hauling him out of the tent.


It was difficult at first, and the serving girl gave him a confused look when he asked for water until Aahz told her to bring a wine jug out too. Apparently that made more sense and she brought both. Skeeve gratefully poured himself a glass of water and let Aahz keep the wine.

They talked about the cases, like Aahz had said. Skeeve thought he'd been caught up pretty well on events, but there was nothing like hearing it from Aahz himself. Then they ordered a simple dinner of stew and bread -- and Aahz got another jug of wine -- and kept talking, this time about Skeeve's studies. For this, Skeeve placed a jumbling shield around their table, distorting their conversation to uselessness for any eavesdroppers.

Aahz was impressed, and not sarcastically but the kind where he tried not to show it too loudly. Skeeve smiled into his milk (he'd had to stare at the girl for three minutes before she realized he wasn't joking when he asked for THAT) and answered his questions.

Eventually Aahz ran out of ways to try and catch Skeeve out and sat back whistling. "Damn, kid: you really went pedal to the metal, didn't you?"

Skeeve was somewhat familiar with the idea behind this metaphor, having heard it before, and shrugged, feeling some pride. "I wanted to come back," he admitted. "I wanted to be able to help more."

Aahz nodded slowly, respect on his face in a rare moment of honest emotion in public. "You're something else." He made to toast, and Skeeve quickly poured himself a glass of wine which was a good part water. Aahz nodded and they touched glasses and drained each.

After Aahz had finished his, he wiped his mouth and sat back. "Reminds me: I got a message this morning. We can get a popper through one of my cousins, but we'll have to drop 50 gold on it: little bastard wants ten percent for a finders fee."

Skeeve thought he sounded proud but knew better than to say so. "That's really great, Aahz!" He sat forward. "What can you tell me about this stuff? Have you ever tried it?"

Aahz snorted. "Didn't need it," he scoffed dismissively. "Only idiots who don't pay attention in class need that trash in school."

Skeeve watched him patiently until Aahz sighed. "It isn't that hard, Skeeve: you take a pill, get a few hours worth of total recall. The hardest part is going to be finding what you want in all the useless junk you'll be remembering."

Skeeve wondered how hard it would be to get hold of more of the drug if he couldn't get it the first time.

Aahz must have seen the look on his face, because he waived a hand at him. "Don't worry about it kid. I had Bernard grab a case of the stuff: that's why it was so expensive, on top of import fees. I figured you were on to something, and you never know when the extra might be useful."

Skeeve relaxed a little. "Glad to hear it," he said, sitting back again. They worked on their drinks companionably, Aahz and his watered wine and Skeeve and his milk. When Aahz took a long pull Skeeve leaned forward again. "Of course, if we make any money off of the pills later, I want eighty percent."

Aahz spewed. "Eighty?" He snarled. "Where do you get off--"

Skeeve smiled winningly at Aahz. "Twice what your cousin is getting for a finders fee, and since you aren't dropping your own money on it in the first place..."

Aahz swallowed whatever he was about to say down and stared at Skeeve for a moment before he started laughing. "So I should drop twenty-five gold now for fifty percent of any *possible* profits later?"

Skeeve shrugged and poured some water as he'd finished his milk already.

Aahz was watching him with open fondness now. "You little extortionist."

Skeeve frowned. "Isn't blackmail when you have embarrassing information on someone and threaten to expose it if they don't do what you want?"

Aahz shrugged. "Losing money is highly embarrassing." His tone indicated Skeeve should have known that.

The shield was dropped and the rest of the conversation involved Gleep and Buttercup's hijinks at the Inn. Skeeve wasn't exactly bouncing when they left, but he was feeling rather exuberant. He hadn't wanted wine more than a little the whole night, and spending time with Aahz relieved the small part of him which had feared he'd romanticized his old mentor too much and he wouldn't be able to appreciate the real Aahz now that they were together again.

Real Aahz was way better than imagination-Aahz, he found. For one, he told funnier jokes.

They were given a berth in the Bazaar, some respectful glances directed at them, some confused and some outright hostile: no doubt the last were from fellow magicians upset at the return of such a formidable rival.


Author's note: I have more of this in my head, but Aahz and Skeeve have to get comfortable with each other again. And I don't know that anyone can read these books and expect too much explicit mush between these two. Anyway, my schedule is incredibly hectic and as such I don't know when I'll be able to finish the next part with my spring semester starting in a few days. If anyone would like to discuss characterization with me, please leave a review with an email and I'll be happy to reply and consider any points you have. Of course, this is assuming anyone reads this.