Title: Seven Devils, Chapter 2
Warnings: language, some angst
Characters/Pairings: Little Ethan, Sheridan, Fancy, Noah, mentions of Luis, Theresa, Ethan, original characters, and some surprise returns
Summary: Little Ethan isn't so little anymore, and he's trying to forge his own identity. What does a surprise return mean for Ethan's political aspirations and the Crane family in general? The return of an old friend may be just what Sheridan needs. Fancy and Noah bicker and discuss their respective love lives, in their own way.
"Ketchum!" Scarbinsky barks as he barrels through the Seascape's kitchen, sidesteps various personnel scurrying around like a diligent army of well-dressed ants in the chaotic space, barely gives Little Ethan a chance to keep up.
"Yeah, Boss?" a petite redhead whirls around at the snarling sound, precariously balances a tray of fine china and decadently indulgent entrees in one hand.
"Seems our pal Gio called in." Scarbinsky's ruddy cheeks purple with apparent, inexplicable disgust, and Little Ethan fights to keep his own expression neutral as the older, slightly rotund man huffs along. "Silver Spoon here's going to be shadowing you today. I want you to show him the ropes, keep his privileged little nose clean. He wants to do his civic duty before heading off to Harvard in the fall, see how the other half lives as a kind of social experiment, I figure."
"That it, Boss?"
"You can learn a lot from this one, Winthrop. I want you to soak it all in."
"Yes, Sir," Little Ethan nods, barely suppresses a smile as he witnesses the pair of wide emerald eyes roll behind Scarbinsky's meaty shoulder.
"As you were, Ketchum. Winthrop."
"I'm Ethan," Little Ethan offers his hand when the older man is gone, only to earn another eye roll for his trouble (it definitely loses some of its appeal from this vantage point).
"I know who you are, Junior," the girl says simply, turns on her heel.
Little Ethan winces. "I'd really prefer it if you didn't call me that." He bounds into step behind her as she hurriedly zips and skillfully zags through the various staff milling around them.
"I'd really prefer it if you didn't talk at all," she mutters as they emerge from the bowels of the restaurant into the main dining room. "In case you haven't noticed, we're covered up with customers, and I'm not in the mood to be bitched at because someone's Eggs Benedict isn't the perfect temperature."
Little Ethan frowns and resists the urge to tug at the tie that feels more and more like a vice around his neck as he follows in her blazing wake. He ignores the curious stares of recognition he garners from some of the patrons, dodges a couple of other similarly time-pressed wait staff. "How am I supposed to learn anything if you won't talk to me?"
"You've got eyes, don't you?"
He has no response for that, nothing flippant or clever that will score him any points, so Little Ethan bites his tongue, tries to keep up with her (she's small but fast, her short limbs just as efficient as the rest of her). He doesn't have much luck, though, and has to resort to picking out the fiery waterfall of her hair several times. "Excuse me. Pardon me," he apologizes as he dances along the wire, makes a concerted effort to speed up his feet, hopefully without looking like he is jogging behind her. It isn't easy, but somehow he manages to catch up to her, right before she leaves the main dining hall for the sunny veranda. "You're fast," he pants lightly.
"And you don't know how to take a hint," she hisses underneath her breath, paints on a pretty smile as she straightens, approaches the lone occupied table, all the way in the far corner. "Just smile and nod your head. Don't open your mouth unless I give you the okay."
"What's the okay?" Little Ethan asks, then clears his throat uncomfortably at the look he earns for what is obviously a ridiculous question. "Ahem. Got it. After you," he gestures politely. He stumbles to a stop a second later though when he feels his cell phone start to vibrate insistently against his hip (Mama, he thinks with equal parts frustration, equal parts worry…he'd told her not to call unless it was important). He sighs and apologizes, "I'm sorry. I really need to take this."
"Do I look like I really care?" she shrugs. "Do what you have to do, Junior. There are tons of people out there that actually need this job."
Little Ethan frowns, but he realizes he has no point of attack in defending himself because she's one hundred percent right. Still, he offers, "I'll tell whoever it is to call back."
"Whatever." She looks over her shoulder, then glances back at him, seems to soften just the tiniest bit. "Look. Just don't let Scarbinsky see that thing. It's strictly off-limits unless you're on your own time."
Little Ethan smiles gratefully at her, recovers his phone from his pants pocket, promises, "This won't take long." He turns from her, his voice a hushed whisper as he greets his breathless mother. "You promised not to call unless…" he trails off as a vaguely familiar blond strides past him, a pair of over-large sunglasses hiding her eyes from his inquisitive view. "Sorry, Mama. Thought I saw…wait a minute. The press conference's been moved again? I can't. It's my first day." Little Ethan sighs. "I have to go, Mama. I'm not even supposed to be…later, I promise. Love you, too. Bye." He hangs up and slides his phone back into his pocket, looks up to find a pair of green eyes watching him along with the mirrored gaze of the incognito blond. Little Ethan hesitates only briefly when he is beckoned forward, a ball of uncertainty forming and sinking to the pit of his stomach as he approaches the woman and her companion, a man whose profile makes his heartbeat quicken.
"This is Ethan. He's one of our new employees here at the Seascape. Ethan, this is…"
Little Ethan cuts her off quietly but curtly, "I know who he is." Feeling Ketchum tense beside him, he turns to her with a grim smile on his face and apology in his dark eyes. "You could even call him family." Noticing her emerald eyes are still clouded with confusion, he explains, "Mr. Casey here used to be married to my mother." The blond smirks, lowers the sunglasses from her aristocratic nose, and recognition floods Little Ethan's senses seconds before she speaks for the first time, addressing him.
"He hasn't been the only one, has he, dear Nephew? Or should I call you Brother?" she muses. "For a brief time, I might have even called you Uncle," she turns to Ketchum, explains with an ironic lift of her lips. "His mother was very friendly with all the Crane men." Pretty Crane's brown eyes when they look up into his are cool and calculating, calm. "No need for introductions here."
The clarity in those eyes is more unnerving to Little Ethan than any crazed glint could ever be, and he swallows back his unease, focuses only on Ketchum and her wondering eyes, gently pulls her aside and implores her to understand, without explicitly saying the words. "That phone call was actually pretty important, so if you don't care…"
She relents, however reluctantly, with a word of warning. "Just know, that if Scarbinsky catches you…"
"I'm on my own," Little Ethan finishes for her, allowing just a hint of a smile to curl his lips upward as a pink flush creeps over her cheeks when he finishes her thought for her (or maybe it's something else). "Thanks."
"Don't let it go to your head, Winthrop."
"I won't," Little Ethan promises.
"I don't know what you want me to say, Ethan," Sheridan sighs as she tucks her cell phone between her ear and hunched shoulder and pushes the girls' bedroom door open, the heaping laundry basket perched on her opposite hip beginning to dig uncomfortably into her skin. "Well, Julian's never wanted me there before. What's so different about this time?" She tugs her bottom lip between her teeth thoughtfully as she listens to her former (forever, if only to her) nephew toss out theory after theory explaining her brother's oddly urgent request, and her mind absently drifts back to earlier that morning as she sinks onto Charlotte's unmade bed.
Barefoot, with the black spikes of his hair still flattened from a rough night's sleep on her living room sofa, Luis had lowered his large body to the child-sized mattress of Gemma's bed
and gently combed the tangles from the still-sleepy little girl's pale hair. The ribbon had curled like a crimson vine around his long, confident fingers as her daughter's head rested trustingly against his firm chest, her gold-tipped lashes fluttering heavily against her cheeks with each rhythmic pass of the heavy brush.
The naked longing in Charlotte's hazel eyes as she'd watched the pair from across the room had been painful to witness, and Sheridan can still feel the residual aftershocks of the sharp clench and throb of her own heart even now, hours after she'd stumbled upon the little scene (ripped straight out of the pages of her long-buried fantasies of a happily ever after). Tears prick like sharp little needles at the corners of her eyes as she listens to Ethan continue to argue the merits of her attending Julian's hastily called meeting of the board. She wipes at her eyes with the back of her hand and stands back up, interjects a soft, "Ethan." When she's sure she has his attention again, she allows a little bit of her heart's truth to pour through the increasingly faulty connection. "You don't need me there. You never have. This time's really no different. I'll only be a distraction." What she doesn't say is nobody wants her there, but Ethan's always been good at reading her silences and skimming beneath the surface of her words. His own silence makes the hurt she still feels all these years later sting even more, and her throat grows uncomfortably tight with the damning emotion.
Used to be Ethan always had her back, always had a kind word or two. This time he doesn't. He has nothing.
Sheridan's grateful for the knock at her door that gives them both the excuse they need to end the call, and she hopes he can't hear the tears in her voice as she tells him goodbye. "Someone's at the door. I don't know, Ethan. I'll think about it." The promise is vague, but a promise nonetheless, and she knows she'll do more than just think about it; she'll obsess over it for the next couple of hours until she gives in and offers herself up for the scornful glares and pitying glances of those she once held nearest and dearest to her heart. "I have to go," she tells Ethan again, jogging the last few steps to the door once she has thumbed her phone off. She's breathless and flushed (and apparently without a voice) when she finally yanks the door open and recognizes the gleaming blond hair, the proudly held shoulders, the long, graceful stride as it leads away from her to an unfamiliar vehicle parked street-side. It takes a small gray and white ball of fur streaking past her and into the yard for her paralyzed vocal cords to start working again. "Pip! No! Come back here!"
The unrepentant little monster barely spares her a backward glance, instead heads straight for their amused visitor and winds himself around her legs in a blatant plea for help.
Gwen scoops the kitten up, strokes his soft coat as she smiles uncertainly at Sheridan. "Pip. Great Expectations?"
Sheridan laughs softly, scratches lightly behind the escape artist's left ear, feels the responding vibrations of his pleasured purrs beneath her fingertips. "Enchanted."
Gwen nods slightly, glances down at the small feline as he kneads lightly at her forearm, looks back up at Sheridan. "I haven't seen that one," she admits.
"It's a Disney movie," Sheridan tells her. "Gemma's favorite." She looks at Gwen, realizes an explanation is in order. The years have been long, after all, and the bonds of their friendship worn thin and tired after everything that had happened, with Ethan and Theresa, Fancy and Luis, life as exiled outcasts in general. "Gemma's my daughter. My youngest daughter."
Gwen inhales sharply, covers her surprise (poorly) with a bright, watery smile. "Youngest daughter. Wow. So you have…"
"Two daughters," Sheridan informs her. "Gemma and Charlotte. They're with their brother on a field trip right now."
"Marty must be half-grown."
"Half a head taller than me," Sheridan says. "He looks so much like his father, he…" She doesn't finish the painful thought, instead focuses on Pip, whose throaty meow lures her away from the edge of that deep, black pit of self-pity, and lightly scolds him as she takes him from Gwen's cradling arms. "You, young Sir, know better." The kitten rests his head back against her breastbone, stares up at her with blue eyes that are much too wise and knowing for his young age, and she sighs, drops a kiss on the sun-warmed little head. "I'm sorry I missed you, earlier. I was on the phone with Ethan. Julian's called this mysterious board meeting, and it seems he's summoned even the blackest of the family sheep. I can think of only a handful of people Ivy, Fancy, and Theresa would hate more to see there than me." The words tumble out before she thinks to restrain them and her smile is rueful as she glances back up at Gwen sharply. "Gwen, I didn't…"
Gwen interrupts her would-be apologies with a light, reassuring touch on her arm. "Listen, Sheridan. About that meeting. I could really use a friend to walk with me in front of the firing squad."
Sheridan doesn't bother to hide her surprise or her compassion. "Come inside. It looks like we'll both be needing some bullet-proof vests."
"You gonna tell me what bug crawled up your ass?" Noah asks almost nonchalantly, letting himself into the passenger side of the cruiser after staying true to his word and personally escorting Whitney to the hospital's front doors. Tugging his seat belt low over his hips, he pushes back a sigh when Fancy remains tight-lipped, white knuckling the steering wheel and hurtling the car onto the highway. As the hospital's image grows smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror, Noah contemplates the best way to broach a sticky subject, Luis, and his and Fancy's apparently disintegrating marriage (the jeep parked in front of Sheridan's house this morning had been hard to miss). He decides to bide his time. "Quinlan wouldn't put up with this, you know."
Fancy's blue eyes briefly leave the road to rake over his face, and she scowls, still maintaining her silence.
It annoys him, her attempts to shut him out, but they're hardly a surprise, and Noah knows from experience he'll eventually wear her defenses down. The lid on her suppressed anger is hardly holding tight; the brewing resentments and frustrations she's been carrying with her for the last several months are practically begging for an excuse to bubble over, so Noah stirs the pot a little more. "I never said you could drive."
"I didn't ask your permission," Fancy snaps, jerking the steering wheel hard to keep from missing their turn.
Noah braces himself with one hand on the dashboard, reaches out and grabs hold of her thigh with his other hand, just above her knee. When Fancy responds by pinching a plug out of his wrist, he swears and quickly jerks it back, cradling it close. "That hurt, dammit! Unless it's a matter of life and death, slow the hell down."
His partner spits out the word like it's a dirty taste in her mouth, but she slows down, gradually calms enough to look (almost) sorry. She doesn't apologize, though, and Noah wisely refrains from asking her to. He focuses his eyes on the road in front of them and instead asks, "What'd the boss do this time?"
Fancy's right eyebrow twitches when she answers him, and she grips the steering wheel even tighter if possible. "Nothing."
They both know she's lying, but Noah lets it slide, choosing to call her out instead on her rude treatment of Whitney. "Look, I know you're not Whitney's biggest fan, and you're even less a fan of my dating her, but try not getting your bitch on around her next time."
Fancy glances over at him and she sputters out a denial that sounds weak to Noah's discerning ears. "I never said I didn't like Whitney. I didn't," she insists. "Who you date is none of my business. In fact, I could care less."
"So, you're telling me if I invited her and the boys to move in with me and Fitz and Hannah Grace tomorrow, you wouldn't have a problem with it?" Noah fishes, turning to stare out the tinted window as the seedier side of Harmony rolls into view.
"Do I look like an idiot to you?" Fancy barely misses the sidewalk in her distraction, but she doesn't miss a beat, killing the ignition and disengaging her seat belt all in one seemingly fluid motion.
Her stormy blue eyes meet Noah's unflinchingly. "You're doing no such thing, Noah Bennett. I know you. You haven't even kissed her yet."
"Really?" Noah mirrors her actions, challenging her to say more. "How can you be so sure?"
Fancy is the first to look away, and her voice drops to a low whisper. "I would know."
She looks pale, stricken, and Noah feels that old guilt creep up on him again. She'd been more than his partner when Paloma died, more than his friend. She'd been his lifeline. He, on the other hand, had obviously helped hasten the beginning of her (marriage's) ruin. Clearing his throat, Noah tiptoes around the elephant in the room (in this case, the squad car), "Luis has to know you never loved me like you love him. If you want me to talk to him, try to convince him again that it didn't mean anything…" She cuts him off before he can say more, and it's just as well. Still, Noah can't help but feel stung by her words.
"Don't give yourself too much credit, Noah Bennett," Fancy says wryly. "You've never been our problem."
"Thanks. I think," Noah musters up a half-hearted grin. "Looks like I've been let off the hook."
"Looks like," Fancy echoes softly. She touches him with a gentle, hesitant hand as he pockets his badge, checks the safety on his gun. "Noah, I'm sorry."
"What's there to be sorry for?"
"Bring Whitney and the kids over for dinner sometime."
"Only if you promise not to cook," Noah teases. His partner's blue eyes roll, and he doesn't bother to hide his grin. "I'll think about it," he promises a beat later. "Pass the idea by Whitney."
"You do that," Fancy tells him. "Print me off some takeout menus," she smirks as she opens her door and climbs out of the cruiser, her mood thankfully much lighter than when they'd left the station. "Since you seem to have this mortal fear of my cooking."
"I'm not the only one," Noah jokes back, squinting into the sunlight as he joins her, pushes his door shut. He canvasses the area, frowns at what he sees, whistles between his teeth. "I know we have our moments, Fancy Pants, but are you sure you're not trying to get me killed?"
So...this chapter was originally planned to be much longer, but somewhere along the way my inspiration just...died. And I got tired of it sitting on my hard drive and figured it wouldn't hurt to post it in the hopes of seeing if you guys were even still interested in it enough for me to worry about recapturing that lost inspiration.
So, is it? Worth continuing?
I do have a general outline for this story, so I promise I'm not pulling it all out of my A double S.
Feedback is much loved!
Thanks so much for reading!