"So, what's an American like you doing knocking around London at a time like this?"
The man is drunk, invading Quentin's space at the bar with breath that burns like mustard gas and damp, bloodshot eyes, but Quentin's known more than his share of drunks, in Collinsport and Alexandria and everywhere in between. Sometimes he's been the drunk himself and he doesn't flinch.
"I decided to get a front row seat." He winks rakishly, makes a show of raising his glass before taking another sip and setting it down. A little bit of style in a place that could stand some more of it. He's had a few himself, just enough to want to talk. It won't mean anything, but interacting with the world reminds him that he's still part of it. "See what all the fuss is about."
"It's bloody Jerry, 's what." The man scowls into his pint, not drunk enough to let his futile anger spill over onto strangers. Quentin's always admired the British stiff upper lip. "Finally sent my wife out to the country with the kids. Her mum lives in a vile little village - couldn't pay me to live there myself - but it's safer 'n here, isn't it?"
It's only been four months since Quentin arrived in London, most of that time punctuated by bad news and dropping bombs, but that's enough for him to go on and he nods. 1941 is just looming on the horizon and it's already looking like it'll be a doozy of a year. He might have been better off staying in Illinois.
"Where'd you come from, anyway?" He's got the man's full attention again, narrow-eyed and suspicious. Quentin's not offended; he doesn't trust people, either.
Chicago is on the tip of his tongue, but then he changes his mind and decides to try out a bit of honesty for a change. "Maine." He smirks. "A vile little village. You won't know it."
"Humph." His drinking companion looks unimpressed. He probably doesn't know where Maine is, either. "And you're, what, some kinda thrill seeker?" And now he sounds offended, too, preemptively. Tensions are running high these days. War does that to people - Quentin's seen it before. Sometimes he feels like he's seen everything before.
He isn't sure how he wants to respond, but, almost before he can decide, finds himself saying, "Not like I used to be."
That gets a flicker of interest. "Sounds like a story, that."
And it is. Oh, is it ever. A story that spans decades. A story about evil and things that shouldn't exist but do. A story about a family that was never a very good one, but was his all the same. A story about people who died too young, sometimes because of him. He pretends that doesn't affect him, even when it does. Quentin is very good at pretending.
It's a story he's never told to anyone. He doesn't think he ever will.
But it's been a quiet evening so far, no planes yet, and the man won't remember anything Quentin tells him, anyway. So he finishes his pint and says, "You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
"That so?" He signals to the barman for another round. "I'll be the judge 'a that."
He won't really tell him. Even if he did, the man wouldn't believe it. A former werewolf, twice brought back from the dead and living forever through a cursed portrait. It's the maddest thing he's ever heard and he lives it every day.
"I had siblings once," is what he finally settles on. It'll do. "Two brothers and a sister. We never really got along, though, the four of us." He smiles and it stretches across his face slowly. It feels like he's had lifetimes to perfect that smile. "I was a bit of a black sheep, if you get my meaning."
"No family of your own, then?"
Quentin thinks of Jenny and Beth and children he never knew and shakes his head. The stunning irony of it all aside, some graves are best left undisturbed.
The man is shaking his head in return, but whether it's sympathy or condescension Quentin can't be sure. "You really should start one, mate. At the end of the day, kids're all we've got to leave in this world once we're gone."
And Quentin laughs before he can stop himself, loud and explosive in the mostly quiet pub. His companion looks shocked for a moment before he chuckles, too. Quentin's always been good at getting people to laugh with him, even when the joke's on them. And the joke really is on his new English friend, who thinks he's dolling out fatherly advice to a young American who's just happened to pick a dreadful time to sow his oats, but doesn't know anything at all.
"I don't know about that," he says with another charismatic smile. "Can't say I'd make a very good father. Though I will admit, it'd be a shame not to pass on my stunning good looks."
The man nods with all the earnestness of the bottle. "You should find yourself a girl. Plenty of girls in London these days, and plenty of 'em willing, what with the war." He nods again. "That's just what you should do: find a girl."
"I will," Quentin assures him, and it's probably true. At some point he no doubt will find a girl, though not in quite the way the man means. "Trust me, my friend, that I will."
A third nod. Then, "So you just decided this was a good time to take a sightseeing tour? Could've picked a better year for it." He frowns slightly. "You running away from something?"
"I suppose you could say that." He sips his beer. "There's not much left for me, back home." The word home feels strange on his tongue. "Everyone else is gone." Everyone but him, and Barnabas, too, somewhere.
"Well, you could sign up." The man shrugs. "If you've got nothing else on."
He laughs again, but it's quieter and cut off by an air raid siren. Regular as clockwork, the Germans. Over the sudden noise, he shouts, "Maybe I will at that!"
The man claps him on the arm as he shrugs into his overcoat. "Might just do us all some good that way, American." He turns to head for the door, then turns back. "What's your name, anyway?"
And Quentin smiles, because they'll never see each other again and both of them know it, but a bit of civility goes a long way during wartime. Any other time, too, for that matter. Forty-five years are enough to learn a thing or two.
"It's Quentin. Quentin Collins."