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The Demon in the Bottle

By Caro Roberts

 

Let her cry
If the tears fall down like rain
Let her sin
If it eases all her pain
Let her go
Let her walk right out me
And if the sun comes up tomorrow
Let her be
~~"Let Her Cry"--Hootie and the Blowfish~~

Rio had always been a social drinker, but she'd always kept that kind of 'socializing' down to a minimum. Even so, she held her liquor amazingly well, and could stay on her feet long after anyone else would have been sprawled on the floor. In fact, new members often heard about her capabilities and challenged her to drinking contest, and she'd drunk men twice her size under the table, then walked away in a relatively straight line. Even more amazing, she never seemed to have a hangover the next morning--at least not one the size she should have had. After much nagging, she'd finally confided her secret to Jedar: before she went to bed, she drank as much water as she had liquor, then walked briskly around the Lair until she was fairly steady. No one in the Lair had ever seen her drunk, or even vaguely inebriated, and some unkind souls had suggested that that was because she was so obnoxious sober, no one could tell the difference.

But since the episode with Jayter Nerys, Rio had been drinking much move heavily. It certainly wasn't obvious at first--a cocktail here, a margarita there, nothing that heavy.

So when Jedar found her passed out in her quarters one morning, a half-empty glass of wine in one hand, it was quite a shock.

It was a weekday morning, and they'd planned to go case a heist together. She was by no means an early riser, but it was nearly nine, she should definitely have been up. But she wasn't at breakfast, so he went to get her.

"Rio? Rio, aren't you up yet?" There was no answer, so he tried the door. Unlocked. "Rio, what--" He froze as he saw her collapsed on the floor, a glass dangling limply from one hand. He yelled down the hall for a doctor, then knelt next to her and tried to wake her up. "Rio...Rio!"

Querida ran in and got down next to him. "What happened to her?"

"I don't know, when I came in she was like this...Maybe she fell and hit her head?"

"Maybe." Kerry set her jaw grimly as she tried to wake her best friend up. "I don't think so, though...what was in the glass?"

"Looks like wine."

"Hmm. Help me get her to the infirmary."

*****

"I don't believe this!" Querida studied the blood test results in front of her, her eyes wide. "That's not possible."

"What's not possible?" Jedar came over and peered at the results, too, but they didn't mean anything to him.

"According to this, her blood alcohol level is off the scale. She drank herself unconscious!"

"What?! But that's not--" Jedar stopped suddenly, thinking back. When was the last time he'd seen Rio without a drink in her hand? Not for weeks.

Rio groaned from the infirmary bed, finally starting to wake up. "What...oh...my head..." She tried to sit up, but Querida stopped her.

"Lie back, Rio. You've got a hangover."

"Uhn? How'd I get..."

"You were passed out in your room. Rio, how much have you been drinking?"

"Not much."

"Not according to this chart."

"Then that chart's wrong." She tried to get up again, only to be held back by both of them. "Lemme up, I'm fine."

"Rio, you've got a problem."

"Don't be ridiculous, Jedar."

"You're drinking too much."

"I am not. I ain't drinkin' anymore than I ever did."

"Fine." He folded his arms. "Prove it. Don't take another drink for a week."

"Fine. I will. Then we'll see who has a problem."

*****

Five days later, Jedar was beginning to wonder if maybe Rio was fine, after all. She hadn't been seen with a drink all week, and both he and Kerry had been watching her like hawks. Maybe I am paranoid. The thought somehow did nothing to reassure him.

That night, he couldn't sleep, and was afraid he'd wake Nylessa up with his constant tossing and turning. He got up and put on a robe, deciding to wander about for a bit until he was sleepy. Those wanderings lead him to the Lounge.

Where he surprised Rio in the middle of her fifth shot of whiskey.

"Rio!"

She whirled, the glass dropping out of her fingers and shattering on the floor. "Jedar! I...I..."

He crossed the room in three strides, catching her wrist and taking the bottle held in her other hand away from her. "What are you doing?"

"The week was almost over," she replied somewhat sullenly, pulling at her wrist even though she knew he was stronger than she was and wouldn't let her go until he was good and ready.

"I don't believe this. You really couldn't go a week without a drink, could you? And whiskey? You've never had whiskey before!" He took a closer look at her, noticing for the first time her dilated eyes, shaky stance, and slightly slurred speech. "You're drunk, aren't you."

"I am not!" The words were indistinct. The harder liquor was taking its toll.

"Come on." Not letting go of her wrist, he started dragging her back toward her room. "How long did you last out without a drink? One day? Two? Have you been drinking every night?"

"No!!" Faint. Without conviction. She was lying, and he knew it.

"If you think I'm going to let you get away with this, you--" He stopped as he opened the door to her room, noting something sticking out from under her bed. Frowning, he dropped her wrist for a minute and pulled it out. The thick, black bottle was unmistakable. Saurian brandy. He knelt to pull the rest of the bottles out as Rio looked one helplessly. First one, then another, then another, until there was nearly a case of very hard liquor in pile on the bed. Saurian brandy. Whiskey. Beer. Other things he didn't even know the names off, and didn't want to. Jedar turned to face her, eyes burning. "You're an alcoholic."

"Jedar!"

"This is about Nerys, isn't it?"

"I..."

"I'm not going to let you do this to yourself." He gathered up the entire case and started walking to the bathroom. Rio followed, protesting. Her protests became exponentially louder when he calmly uncorked the bottles and started pouring their contents down the sink.

"What the hell do ya think ye're doin'?!" she demanded, trying to stop him. He held her off with one arm.

"No, what the hell do you think you're doing?"

The last of the brandy disappeared down the drain. Jedar turned back to her, and something in his eyes made her a little nervous. "You're going into rehab, whether you want to, or not."

She drew herself up and glared at him, but the waver in her voice let him know that she was still intoxicated. "I hate you."

"You'll hate me more when withdrawal sets in."

*****

Withdrawal: Days 1-2

When the withdrawal set it, it wasn't pretty.

Jedar had locked Rio in her room and stood just outside the door, impassively listening to her threats and insults. She screamed, cursed, yelled, swore, and insulted him, his wife, his children, and his entire family back to the time of Drake duCaine. She overturned furniture and threw things.

He ignored her.

Querida showed up with a tray of food, and the torture on her face was so heart-wrenching that Jedar almost couldn't stand it. "What are you doing here?"

"I brought some food for you...and her." Her voice trembled slightly. "She needs to eat."

"I wouldn't go in there right now."

"Why not?"

He paused and they listened as something heavy and breakable shattered against the door. "DAMN YOU, STORMWING! DAMN YOU, DAMN YOU, DAMN YOU! UNLOCK THIS DRAKE-DAMNED DOOR, STORMWING, YOU CAN'T DO THIS TO ME!" Rio was hammering her fists against the other side of the door, now. "I HATE YOU, I'M GONNA KILL YA WHEN I GET OUTTA HERE!!" The tone of her voice left no doubt that she would.

"That's why."

"Oh, Jedar..." Querida wiped at eyes already red from crying. "How did I ever let it get this far... Why didn't I see it, I should have known --"

"None of us knew. There was nothing you could have done, Kerry."

She wiped her eyes again. "Let me stand guard for awhile. You need a break."

"No."

"Why not?"

"Because..." He winced at the string of expletives issuing from the room behind him. He hadn't even heard some of those before. "Because I don't want you to have to go through this."

She looked at him for a moment, then left.

*****

Withdrawal: Days 3-4

The screaming was almost preferable to this, Jedar thought with a wince, wishing he could close his ears. He'd remained impassive through all the yelling and cursing, able to just ignore the sounds of violence. But this, this was almost unbearable.

The voice was pleading, now, instead of angry. "Please, Jedar, please, just one drink, I just need one drink, oh, Drake, this hurts, I'm gonna die... Jedar, help me, please please help me..."

"I am helping you," was the only way he could reply to that, and even at that he couldn't entire trust his voice. Rio was the strongest, most self-sufficient woman he knew, and hearing her begging for a drink almost undid him.

Querida stopped by as often as she could, but he always sent her away again as soon as possible, still refusing to let her have a turn at 'guard duty.' "You couldn't handle it," he told her softly. There was on prejudice between it--he could barely handle hearing the desperate pleas, and Kerry was much more sensitive than he was. She would never have been able to hold out. Occasionally she walked Rio down to B40 so she could use the bathroom, but always walked her right back so that Rio never had a chance to get away or get a drink.

"How much longer will she be like this?" Jedar finally asked, afternoon of the fourth day.

Querida sighed and shook her head. "A day or two, probably. If she can last out that long, she'll have broken it. But if she ever even takes one drink again, she'll relapse. She'll survive. But she'll be so weak..." Her soft brown eyes swam with anguish. Jedar put a hand on her shoulder.

"This is the only way, you know that."

"I know."

*****

Withdrawal: Day 6

Gradually, the entreaties had subsided, until there was just silence on the other side of the door. Jedar had initially suspected that she didn't have the strength left to keep up the constant pleas, but as the silence dragged on he started getting worried. With all the furniture she'd broken, surely there were lots of sharp things she could cut herself on...

Finally he couldn't stand it anymore and went in.

The lights were dim--probably because at least one of them have been shattered. Broken furniture littered the floor, and he had to pick his way carefully to the bed. Rio was curled up on it, her back to him, staring at the wall. "Rio?" Not wanting to wake her up if she was getting some much-needed sleep, he gently touched her shoulder. She rolled over to face him, and he had to suppress a shudder.

Rio looked worse than he'd ever seen her. Her eyes were red, unfocused, her hair a mess, her face and body bruised from her violent protests of her imprisonment. She peered at him with a hopeless, slightly cornered look, like a trapped and injured animal. He sat down next to her cautiously, not even sure if she recognized him. "How are you feeling?" An inane question, but it filled the silence for a moment, at least.

He hadn't been expecting an answer, but to his surprise she sat up slowly. "Like 'ell." Her tongue was blunted from screaming, her voice hoarse, her words slurred. "I need a drink..." She paused, licking at dry, split lips. "Water would be nice." Then, with no warning, she started sobbing uncontrollably.

He'd been expecting that. He held her and let her weep into his chest. "Drake, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry..."

"Hush, calm down, it's all right..."

After awhile, she finally stopped crying, though was still shuddering. "Hey." She looked up at him, and he put a hand on her shoulder. "It's okay. It's over."

"Yeah..." She shivered again. "It's over." She wiped her eyes. "I wan' a shower."

"Good girl."

*****

Six months later

Rio sped by the nightclub without even glancing at it. It had once been a favorite night spot of hers, but now it held no draw for her. "Just as well," she told her rearview mirror. "I spent way too much money there, anyway." She knew that her high alcohol tolerance was still there, but she also knew that if she took that first drink, she just might not be able to stop. It was better not to go there.

Her brief struggle had frightened her more than just about anything she'd ever dealt--including Jayter. As someone who prided herself on her self-control, the loss of control that came with excessive drinking had frightened her. At first she'd started drinking to forget Jayter, but as time passed she'd forgotten why she was drinking, only that she wanted to. I almost lost it. I was so damn close... She'd thanked Jedar and Querida--especially Jedar, as he'd had to bear the brunt of her abuse--numerous times for forcing their help on her. She couldn't even remember much of those days, they were all hazy, and she had a feeling it was just as well that she didn't remember what she had said. Memories like that, I'm just better off wit'out.

There was another car coming toward her on the otherwise-empty road. She noted and ignored it, intent on getting home after her heist, but something about the way the other car was driving caught her attention again. It was weaving erratically in its lane, and she automatically started slowing down. Looks like the driver's a little tipsy. She changed lanes to be a little farther away from him, watching his progress nervously. He was going far, far too fast. I hope he doesn't--

The driver lost control and the car--she could now see that it was a huge, heavy SUV--came careening toward her. Rio tried to change lanes, but there was nowhere to go. She frantically swerved and hit the brakes, but the car came straight at her. She didn't even have time to scream before impact.

*****

They almost never knew what happened to her. Jedar was reading morning paper in the lounge, listening to the news with half his attention. It was nothing but bad news, and he was just about to call for someone to change the channel when a particular bulletin caught his attention.

"...Tragedy struck last night as yet another drunk driving accident claimed lives at the infamous intersection of Frontline and Northern. A convertible was hit head-on by an SUV, and both cars went up in flames. Both drivers were killed instantly. Authorities have determined that the driver of the SUV had at least three times the legal limit of alcohol in his system. No identification has been found on either of the bodies. The driver of the SUV--John Doe number 84--was a male Nijhro, about forty-five years of age, the driver of the convertible--Jane Doe number 45--was a female Korsain in her late twenties. If anyone has any information on the two unidentified bodies, they are urged to notify the proper authorities. Back to you, John."

The front of both cars had been destroyed by crash and fire, but the back ends were fairly recognizable. Jedar thought he recognized the car in the video that was shown, and when he caught a glimpse of the license plate, he was sure of it.

It was Rio's car.

*****

The clerk behind the counter of the morgue was middle-aged, with a bored, inattentive appearance about him. Why should he exert any energy about his job? All the people under his care were dead.

Jedar approached the desk slowly, feeling very, very old. "I'm here to identify Jane Doe 45."

The clerk--Kad Gallanger, his namebadge announced--sat up slowly and turned to his computer. "Relationship to the deceased?"

He asked it so calmly, so callously. As if 'the deceased' had never had a personality, a family, a life--as if she didn't matter any more-- Jedar ground his teeth. "Brother."

Kad raised his eyebrow, studying Jedar. "Jane Doe 45 is a Korsain."

"Half-brother," Jedar growled through gritted teeth. "Here." He shoved some phony identification across the desk. Kad cast an uninterested eye over it, then shrugged.

"Yeah, sure. I don't know why I bother, it's not like anyone would want a body that didn't belong to them." He shrugged again and stood up. "Follow me. You'll have to ID the body, and--uh--it won't be pretty."

"I can handle it."

The morgue was silent, eerily so. It seemed to have been purposely built to provide oppression and fear that wasn't amply supplied just by its contents. Kad meandered along, as if not at all affected by what was in the drawers he was walking by. Perhaps he wasn't--if he allowed himself to care in a job like this, he'd probably go mad in a very short time. But would it hurt him to at least show a little sympathy?

Kad stopped in front of a stretcher that was still out in the hallway and checked the label, then nodded. "This is it. We just got her this morning, we haven't finished the autopsy yet. You ready?"

Jedar nodded slowly.

"Okay, then here goes. Take a deep breath." He pulled the sheet down just enough for Jedar to see her head--or what was left of it. Jedar's stomach twisted, and he very nearly vomited then and there. She was mangled and burned almost past recognition, and his mind struggled to match what he was seeing in front of him with the Rio he knew. No--that can't be her, it can't be. "That's her." Almost of their own accord, his hands reached out and took hold of the stretcher. "I'm taking her out of here."

"Wait a minute, you can't--"

Jedar calmly reached into his jacket and pulled out a gun. "That woman may not be any relation to me, but she is still my sister and I won't let you throw her in some unmarked grave and stick a blank headstone in the ground and call it good enough!" The last words came out as nearly a shout, and Kad stepped back, unsure of what to do.

"I--I can't let you--"

"Would you like to join the rest of your friends here?" Jedar asked harshly, waving his free hand to encompass the body drawers. "No? Then just stand back and let me take her."

Kad shut his mouth and stepped back. Jedar took hold of the stretcher again and started wheeling what was left of his best friend out.

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