"You made this?" Marc took another reverent sip -- the stuff looked like a dark red wine, tasted like cherries with some blackberry, chocolate, and coffee undertones, and then burned gently down like good whisky. Sipping was definitely the way to go with it.
"Every year I trade a few bottles of the last year's batch for a guarantee that I'll get enough crates of proper cherries to make more." Andrew tilted his glass over, tapped it against Marc's and then Aidan's. "Got the recipe from a gloriously insane Czech I served with in World War II."
Marc sipped again. "World War II? Which branch?"
Andrew just grinned at him, the same startling transition from sane to crazy that Farrell did, and Marc was laughing even before he heard the answer: "Marines."
Aidan laughed, too. "And you always said the drill instructors were downright soothing after studying with Damien for years."
"Well, they were." Andrew ran a hand through his hair, ruffling it back into place. "Thanks for a place to spend the night, by the way."
"Well, of course," Aidan said indignantly. "I'd have made a pallet on the floor, if need be. You don't come up enough."
"I don't know," Andrew teased back. "The last time you did that, we both had hallucinations...."
Now Aidan laughed. "Hallucinations indeed! Did I never tell you the facts of that story?"
Marc stole the bottle and held it away from both of them. "No more brandy until I hear this story."
Andrew stretched out further. "If you're going to be like that... And no, I don't think you did Aidan. All right, I'll start it. I was wandering through central Tennessee, trying to decide if I wanted to settle there and thinking more and more that a year of raising hell with Damien sounded good when I begged a bed off Aidan. Or should I say, Sunny?"
Aidan groaned and flipped him what Marc was fairly sure was an obscene gesture. Andrew just grinned at her and went on, "Well, there was a bed available -- she was living in a commune. They loved her by the way. She was the one who knew what to plant when, where, and how, how to take care of the animals, how to butcher the animals, what not to eat... you name it."
Marc raised an eyebrow at his teacher; Aidan shrugged and answered, "It wasn't just me, despite what he says. A fair bit of central Tennessee hadn't had reliable power for that long at that point. But yes, we had a fair number of youngsters who were rather burnt out on cities and politics and they had a great deal to learn. They didn't mind admitting they needed to learn, I'll give them that."
"Anyway, the commune gave me a bed, I fixed up some harnesses for them -- they were trying to farm without a tractor, and the horse was willing but the harness kept coming apart." Andrew chuckled. "Blacksmith's student -- I kept cleaning up and patching everything. Plus teaching them how not to slice themselves with a walking scythe, and that's an art form of its own."
"So after a week of him helping with fences and doors and other not-so-minor matters, certainly from our point of view," Aidan said, "he was finally moving along to go find Damien, go hell-raising, and not tell me about it...."
"I liked the white stripe you bleached in after I told you in the '80s," Andrew pointed out. "Striking. But she took me into town in the one working car they had, to drop me at the train station, and get breakfast at the cafe on the way for the sheer variety of someone else's cooking--"
"I needed that, not him," Aidan added. "Some of them couldn't cook that well, but they insisted on learning."
Marc refilled their glasses with another couple fingers of the cherry brandy. "Oh, yeah. My baby sister Lissa and scrambled eggs. I feel for you."
Andrew took it back up. "So we're sitting there, enjoying real coffee instead of mostly chicory, and my right hand to God, Marc, a bunch of guys in camos and full field gear drive into the town square on a tractor. Pull up, turn off the tractor, slide off, and slink off."
Aidan chuckled. "Don't forget the part where they left the keys on the seat."
Marc tried to picture this. "When you say full field gear…"
"I mean camos, packs, and rifles that looked like the real thing to me. Might've been training rifles, but that's hard to tell at that distance." Andrew shrugged and sipped at his brandy. "So what was the story?"
Aidan laughed. "Well, if I tell you that the local ROTC had a land navigation exercise that morning in full kit?"
"That tells me I still know a rifle when I see one, yes." Andrew waved a hand at the plate of brownies and Marc passed it over.
Aidan laughed. "I never did hear any names, mind you, but apparently a squad of cadets had finished up much faster than expected -- the instructions didn't insist they do the points in a particular order, just all of the points, so they did it in the most efficient order -- and came out of the woods into a field that was a shortcut on the way back to college. The farmer out plowing the field did not expect to see a batch of men in full kit and he slid off the tractor and left with it between him and then."
Marc started chuckling. "And they said the hell with it and borrowed a ride?"
Aidan laughed. "Yes. I hear the farmer came back for his tractor and wasn't about to press charges, for that he'd have to admit cowardice. The town laughed about it, quietly, for weeks. But first we all sat there, drank a bit more coffee, and then checked with each other to verify that yes, really, we'd seen that and there was nothing 'interesting' in the coffee . It was the '60s, there could have been."
Andrew snagged another brownie. "An extra mile for me tomorrow.... It was memorable, yes. Nice to hear there's a reasonable explanation. But no. No pallets, thank you, Aidan."
Marc grinned at him. "Hey, look at it this way -- if that had been an actual delusion, a therapist would have had a great time figuring out what it meant to you?"
Aidan laughed and topped up their brandies again. "Probably that he was tired of marches. By the end of a war, all of us were."
Andrew chuckled. "I had it better than the shorter guys."
"Point." Marc grinned at him. "Now, if you want an in with our favorite local bartender, first you promise him a bottle of this and then you mention the part about 'marine'..."
"...and then you draft us for whatever improvements you decide he needs," Aidan said, amused. "Marines."
"We have the best drinks," Andrew agreed, clearly making plans for jobs, drinks and stories already.