Scylla and Charybdis
The sound of Apparation startled him, but Icarus did not look up from his work. The smell was more than enough to identify his visitor; smoke and sweat and sex, the other-people's-alcohol and cheap grease scent of pub, and a woman's perfume that would have been overpriced at three Sickles the bottle. "You're an idiot."
"Lovely way t'be sayin' hello." Seamus circled around to the other side of the table, flipping a chair to sit astride it with his arms crossed over the back. "So…why'm I an idiot this time?"
"Because I tried your flat and the Floo was blocked, the phone off the hook." Now he did look up, fixing the other man with a cool, even stare, but there was no look of guilt in return, only bemusement.
"I think that's fairly wise meself. Don't like bein' bothered."
"Ya had a girl in your flat." Even if he hadn't been able to smell it, he could see easily enough that his deductions had been correct in the hair still mussed and loose across Seamus' shoulders, the fresh purple mark among the latticed lines on his neck.
Seamus flashed him a cheeky grin. "No girl, she weren't. All woman, that one."
"'That one,' yes, I'm sure there was no need for pedantics such as names." Icarus set down his quill, crossing his arms as he leaned back. "The point is, ya had her in your flat. Which means ya were in Belfast ."
He still wasn't getting it, and Icarus snorted harshly, standing up and shoving the chair back in place as he stalked towards the kitchen. "I told ya to stay the hell away from there! Do ya want to get caught? After all this? When we're so bloody close?"
"Not particularly," Seamus answered tightly, and though he didn't look back, he could tell that he had been followed as he opened the cupboards with definitely more force than was necessary, jerking his wand towards the breadbox to summon the loaf as he pulled out a tin of sardines. "Make me one o' whatever 'tis? Starved, I am, and if I's walked in on supper at midnight, better for it."
"You've walked in on I haven't eaten all day, for your information," Icarus snapped. "I suppose I should be grateful that ya stink o' chips and beer for remindin' me, but ya can get your own."
"So's I will, then." He had to duck as a packet of noodles flew past him, then a tin of stewed tomatoes, but then the bread was summoned from under his hand. The anger was ready to burst loose at that last impertinence as he turned, but there was something in Seamus' face that stopped him. The cheek was gone, replaced with a strange mixture of what seemed almost like kindness and remorse. "Sorry I had ya worried," he said gently. "Let me get supper, then? Least I can do, and we both's know I'm the better cook anyways."
Grudgingly, Icarus stepped back, leaning against the wall as he watched bottles of spices, some cheese, and a small tin of mushrooms join the growing collection on the countertop. "Thank ya…but don't get thinkin' you've distracted me from the fact that ya were up North when they're takin' that city brick by brick lookin' for ya."
"They've been doin' that for two years now," Seamus pointed out. "Ain't found me yet, ain't gonna 'less I want to be found."
There was a long pause, and Icarus frowned. "Do ya?"
"Want to be caught?" The only response was a sudden tension in the muscles of the shoulders clearly visible through the tight t-shirt, the knife coming down a little harder on the garlic, and Icarus continued carefully. "You're takin' more and more risks, Seamus. 'Tis not my place be buttin' into what a man does in private, but –"
His tone was a warning, but it wasn't one he could afford to heed. "But goin' out pullin' birds when they've got people lookin' everwhere not just for the Sluagh, but Seamus Finnigan? Ones who aren't just workin' off old pictures, who'd know ya even though ya look different than they remember?"
"I ain't as much fool's ya think." He was grateful to hear that at least Seamus seemed to be taking him seriously, despite the defensiveness. "I kept t'Muggle places, and the sort if our old friends were to walk into, they'd stick out plenty 'nuff for me to be takin' my leave long before they saw me." There was a pause as he scooped the garlic into the pan and lit the flame beneath, adding a small splash of oil. "Besides, I've been in Derry mostly. Only came back East'cause I heard from Leary."
That caught Icarus' interest, and he couldn't keep the intrigue out of his voice. "Oh? What does he have?"
Icarus blinked, hardly able to believe it. "Billy Ulster? That bastard from the RHD?"
This time, the grin was pure poison as Seamus glanced back over his shoulder from the fragrant pan. "Or Timmy Moore, if ya be wantin' him by what his whore o' a mother put him by."
"You're puttin' me on!"
"Not a bit. Tidy little tip, it is…shipment o' arms comin' into the port tomorrow night, and he's 'spected to be there himself to collect. Looks like the leak come through one o' his own boys whose cross that one o' them got plugged at a club a few weeks back and ol' Billy didn't get all the ones what did it. Got it all, we do. Time, place…down t' the exact dock and ship, it is." Seamus recited the news with unabashed triumph, tapping the hilt of the omnipresent wolf's head knife at his belt. "'Nuff to have ourselves a grand time, and sure if he ain't high on the Diabhal Dubh's dance card."
It was good news, wonderful news, even, but something still seemed wrong, itching at the back of his head in a way that made Icarus distinctly uncomfortable, and his friend noticed. "I'd have thought ya'd be thrilled." The blue eyes narrowed, and Seamus tilted his head in consideration. "What's been wrappin' ya up all day? Not to put too fine a point on it, but I didn't never think I'd hear o' ya forgettin' to eat."
"I finally got ahold o' the Thurles transcripts." It was the truth, even if it had nothing to do with what was bothering him now, and it gave him a moment to think. "I've been on the waitin' list with the Uni for months, and they're everythin' I'd hoped they'd be."
"Oh?" No matter how often it happened, it always surprised him to see Seamus take a genuine interest in the details of his research, and this was no exception. "That's…the old witch-huntin' business, if I's rememberin' right?"
"Twelfth-century, yes," Icarus nodded. "It's so hard to sort out the genuine witches and wizards that were captured by the Church from the poor bastards who just wanted to keep a few o' their toenails, but everythin' I'd heard about these suggested that they had a real practitioner o' the old Dark Arts, and more importantly, they hadn't been requested for almost twenty years until the last person took them out…a 'Professor' from the North. Tall man. Grayin' beard."
Seamus chuckled darkly as he added a few more things to the now-sauteed garlic. "Sounds like a friend o' ours."
"It does." He smiled bitterly, crossing the kitchen to dip a spoon into what was now definitely an increasingly wonderful-smelling tomato sauce. Merlin, but how was it possible to go from not even thinking about food to completely starving just by the aroma of something tasty? "Hate bein' always followin' behind him, but 'tis still good to know what exactly he's lookin' at…though don't know if I'd still call it good now that I'm startin' to get through them."
Another pot joined the first on the stove, this one filled with water and brought to a boil immediately by magic before the noodles were added. "Why's that?"
"I'm havin' a bit o' trouble with it," he admitted reluctantly. "The priests are in Latin, and that I'm fine enough with, but the wizard himself was usin' an archaic dialect o' Muenster that is really throwin' me off. My Irish is modern and Connaught, plus the old Ulster the Cycles were written in…this…" He made a face. "'Tis like tryin' to make out Old English."
"Lemme have a go," Seamus offered. "Me Ulster's truer than yours, and closer to Muenster that is, and maybe that I didn't learn it from books'll be for the best, ya know? I ain't gonna be so easy tied up in t'proper grammar o' it."
"After supper." The sauce was already wonderful; just sweet enough, but still savory and deep with the rich garlic and a half-dozen herbs he hadn't even realized he had in his kitchen, though he knew there was no chance the other man had Transfigured them from something else. He sighed, staring mournfully at the noodles and wishing that magic could coax them to cook faster. "I have the gist, though, I think. He was mostly confessin' to havin' been caught preparin' for a Dark Sabbat for Beltane, and the timin' o' that bothers –"
Icarus stopped mid-sentence, and the spoon clattered to the floor from his suddenly nerveless fingers. "Shite."
It all clicked together now, and he whirled, slamming one fist into his other palm rhythmically as he began to pace manically across the tiny kitchen. "Beltane. He's gonna be makin' his move for Beltane, I'm sure o' it, and that only gives us five days, and we know he'd want Ulster, but if he's still goin' for guns, he ain't been offered no sweeter package o' magic, so that means there's somethin' about Ulster puttin' a bad taste in the Diabhal Dubh's mouth, and we know it ain't his morals, but this tip, 'tis toogood, and the circumstances just don't ring true for how it was got, and straight to the Coppers without bein' part o' a deal and no word from Leary that they'll be havin' every man Jack with a badge crawlin' that dock, no…no, no, no…there's a plant in the RHD, mark my wand, it came from an undercover, and that's why Diabhal Dubh won't go near Ulster even now, even when he'd be most wantin' to make a last go o' recruitin' good ones…and that…."
The rapid tumble of thoughts trailed off, and he dropped cross-legged to the floor, scowling deeply to himself. He didn't know or care if Seamus had followed any of it, and he pulled a toffee from his pocket, not eating it, but twisting at the wrapper as he closed his eyes, trying to focus. "If it's from an undercover," he said finally, "it's a good tip. Fact. Fact also, we can't be missin' the chance to have Ulster – or Moore, or whoever he is – especially if we can get there first. He's big, and takin' him good and ugly'll scare off a lot o' folk right when we most need to hit the Diabhal Dubh hard in the recruitment. Fact further, though, that everythin' with a badge in Belfast is lookin' for ya."
The silence in the kitchen was broken only by the soft burble of the boiling water and the comforting crinkle of the paper, and he was grateful that for once, Seamus was just letting him think without the need to comment. He popped the toffee into his mouth, letting the sweet, buttery richness melt down his throat as he closed his eyes. "Can't let him go. Can't risk sending the Sluagh. Sniper? No. Loses the whole point…that could just be taken as PIRA."
"I'll be careful, Russ." Seamus' voice was low and tentative as he felt the hand come to rest gently but firmly on his back. "Ya know I can be like a ghost, I can."
"I'm not sendin' ya into a nest o' coppers." He shook his head stubbornly, still not opening his eyes even as he squeezed the hand back. "If he's makin' his move on first May, he's got to be stopped then, lest he bring Merlin knows what kind o' magic to his command. 'Tis the time for beginnin's, and we can't be lettin' him do it."
At last he did open his eyes, twisting to face Seamus as he drew a deep breath that shivered more than he wanted it to. "I can't stop him, Seamus. We both know that when it comes to takin' him, you're the one what'll need do it. You're a warrior, true by your blood." He managed a weak, lopsided smile, pinching a handful of flesh at his waist. "I'm an out-o'-shape scholar who got myself taken down not ten minutes into a battle where ya notched more silver masks on your wand than anyone shy o' the Minister himself. We have to keep ya safe now more than ever."
"I ain't got no interest in warmin' a jail cell when we're this close neither," Seamus said reassuringly. "But right ya are too that we can't just let Ulster go. This is the first chance we've had in near two years t'get anywhere close t'the fecker, and if the Diabhal Dubh ain't keepin' his distance over a mole, I don't want the likes o' him on his payroll. I'm goin' in, and I'm makin' a pretty parcel out o' him."
"No, you're not," Icarus whispered, twisting the wrapper so tightly now that it tore in two. He fisted each scrap into his hands, his throat so tight it was almost impossible to force through even a weak rasp of sound. "I am."
Seamus jerked back, his eyes flying wide as his mouth dropped open. It took him a few seconds to find the words, and he shook his head so furiously that the blonde hair lashed in his face, sticking to the residue of lipstick on his cheek. "Like hell ya are! This is a kill!"
"Something's burnin'." The soft warning caught Seamus off-guard, but he was not distracted in the least as he snatched the pans off the stove, extinguishing the heat with a jab of his wand.
"You're out o' your overeducated mind!" he growled. "It ain't like carvin' a feckin' turkey, it ain't! I'd thought ya'd seen enough o' how I come back t'reckon that!"
"I know it's not." Icarus somehow forced himself to sound calm as he got to his feet, taking the pot of noodles and draining it into the sink to give himself something to do with his trembling hands. "I'll need ya to tell me exactly how to go about it so that I can pass for ya."
"Pass for me!" The words were nearly spat. "All them coppers around, and what's all this been for, then?" Seamus gestured at his face, at the long hair, the scars and tattoos. "So's gettin' seen would just add to the legend, weren't it? So I'd be a proper outlaw demon bastard thing! Ain't ya the one just sayin' ya don't exact suit that part?!"
"I'll wear your cloak." The water swirled down the drain in clouded eddies, steaming so hot into his face that it stung, but he didn't pull back. "Try not to be seen, and if someone is goin' to get a good look at me, I'll Apparate. But we have to at least try, Seamus, and we can't risk ya."
Maybe he sounded a thousand times more confident than he felt, but for all the silence that came before it, there was what sounded like resignation in Seamus' tone when he finally answered. "Russ…I don't want this for ya. You're a good man."
"That's irrelevant. I've killed before." He squared his shoulders, turning to offer the pot of noodles. "Do I salt these?"
"It were in the water," Seamus said dully, waving his wand to sever a pat from the stick of butter and direct it into the pot. "Toss that with them, keep'm from stickin' to each other. I got the sauce." He sighed. "It ain't irrelevant. There's a world'n a half o' difference between battle and cold-blooded murder. Thought ya had too much o' a heart for that business."
Icarus held the pot in one hand, using his wand in the other to send plates and forks to the table without ever breaking contact with those blue eyes that could sometimes be so cold, so hard, so terrifyingly almost animal, but were now all the harder to look at for all that they were the genuinely caring eyes of a friend. A friend who knew what this would do to him better than he wanted to think about.
He wanted to change his mind, to just let Seamus do it, to agree that it had been a stupid idea after all. Except it wasn't, and he couldn't, and everything – everything, from the cozy furnishings of the flat that his mother had chosen to the shelves of books to the feel of his own body inside his clothes -- mocked him with the idea that he could ever have taken shelter from the reality on the other side of the theories. His chin raised, and it was hearing a stranger speak from far away with a voice that sounded too calm for the screaming, sobbing little boy inside his head. "I'm not takin' my heart. I'm takin' your knife. Now pour us some milk and teach me how to do this right."