He sat at the shadowed end of the bar, hunched up and curled over his glass.
"Hit me again, Murph."
The Green Parrot was pretty full for a week night, and Sugar was in fine form, as usual. Music, chatter, and laughter bounced around the room like the glints of light reflected by the mirror ball. John ignored them as best he could. That wasn't why he was here.
He glanced over his shoulder to take in the scene and the players with a practiced eye. It was second nature, mostly a reflex of his police training, but he caught himself and stopped as he realized there were others doing the same thing, for an entirely different reason. That wasn't why he was here, either.
He turned back to the bar and tried not to look around the room anymore, at the sea of nameless faces, blurry in the smoky gloom. The one face he wanted to see wasn't here, anyway. It hadn't been for a while, and probably never would be, again.
So why was he here? Once upon a time, it was for the anonymity, to be lost among those who sought the same sort of refuge. Later, he thought of it as a sanctuary, his and Peter's, however deluded he was to feel that way. Now, it was little more than a port in the storm that was his life, if that.
No, that too was a delusion, something he could ill-afford. In truth, coming here was a bad habit, one that he longed to quit but couldn't. A dangerous weakness.
He'd never thought of himself as weak, and once upon a time, he'd have gone out of his way to prove he wasn't. But that time was long past, so far removed from the man he was now that he barely recognized himself.
He was old and tired, so tired of living in the half-light, torn between two worlds, belonging to neither. He couldn't keep this up forever, even if he wanted to. And he didn't want to, not without—
"Hi. Do you mind if I sit down?" A young, dark-haired man interrupted his thoughts.
"I bet you played ball."
The kid was about as subtle as a brick through a window, and such an obvious hustler that John was tempted to flash his badge and scare the crap out of the punk, but he couldn't dredge up the energy to bother. The feigned interest was better than no interest at all, he supposed idly, so he let the booze and the flattery and the small talk wash over him for a while.
When he stood up to leave, the floor rocked beneath his feet. Damn, must've drank more than I thought.
Nick, the kid, grabbed him and held him steady. "You're in no condition to drive."
"I just don't pick up with anybody," John protested, but his head was swimming.
"Neither do I."
A lie, but delivered with such earnestness. And it was nice to lean on someone, just a little. It had been so long since John let himself lean....
"I've... I've got a room at the St. Francis."
John thought the fresh air would help, but the spinning and dizziness got worse in the few blocks to the hotel, not better. Buildings and people swayed in and out of his vision. The neon signs that lined the sidewalk danced a crazy dance as they stumbled past. God, he felt like shit.
No more. It's over. Can't do this anymore. Tomorrow, I'll stop....
It wasn't the first time he'd been so resolved, only to have his courage shrivel up and die in the cold light of day, spineless coward that he was. But he meant it, this time. Without Peter, the risk wasn't worth it. And he was putting Maggie through hell, he knew.
"305," he mumbled and leaned against the wall while Nick got the key from Lawford and....
John shook his head, confused. Corday? he wondered vaguely. Wha—?
But then Nick was dragging him up the steps to the elevator and it was all he could do to stay on his feet.
Gotta sleep it off. Then, tomorrow....
He couldn't keep his eyes open. He fell blindly into the room, onto the bed, face first. He heard... somebody, saying something....