The crowd at the Chlodwig feels wilder, crazier, more reckless than Adair remembers. It's sawdust and sweat, crooked lamps and beeswax candles dripping on the floor. It's hard music pumping through his veins, booze and acrid wood cutting at the edges.
Adair parts the throng easily, bodies swishing back and forth to let him pass. His mind is clear, clearer than it has been in days. His eyes focus on the corner booth where his crew is waiting for him--Morgan, Dagan, Ezra ... and Gale.
Adair's upper lip curls, and his fists tighten at his sides. He forces his walk to keep steady, shoulders rolling back with ease as he advances on them, the thrum of the bass setting the rhythm to his steps.
His shoulders are still carved with fingernail marks, the tangible proof of Lachlan's wildcat possessiveness spelled out all over his skin, covering him like armor. Adair can still feel him, his teeth, his lips, the heat of Lachlan's body writhing on top of him, the strength of his arms. Everything that made Lachlan, everything that Lachlan has given him drives him on, and as he stops a few feet short of their booth, his men shuffle from sprawling to sitting up straighter, tense looks flying across the table and past half finished pints.
"Hey there." Adair smirks, and nods towards Morgan, who immediately scoots forward to let him sit down. "How's it going?"
For the past four weeks the tension within the group has been tangible. Adair can't say he likes it, but at the same time he's had too much on his mind to even try and smooth things out. Truthfully, there was a distant, dark corner of him that didn't want to. His nerves were already stretched to breaking point with worry for Lachlan. He couldn't deal on multiple fronts.
Ezra had been the only one daring enough to ask him "What now?" Adair has to give him his dues, it had been a pretty bold move, but then again, Ezra has always been the no nonsense one of the crew. Adair respects him enough not to lie to him, but at the same time he couldn't very well make a decision on that in the span of a day, nor a week, or even four.
Now though. Now Adair knows his answer.
"Nothing much," Ezra says, shrugging his shoulders. He's got an empty whiskey glass rolling between his palms. "Crews are on the loose, seems like every scum on Earth's drawn to the Chlodwig."
"Nothing new with that," Adair says, darkly amused.
Morgan nods and finishes his drink with several long gulps, not looking at Adair. He's been very quiet lately, and if there's one thing Adair's sorry for, it's putting the three of them through the nerve eating tension of the past month.
Gale ... Well, Gale is a different matter altogether. Adair doesn't give a flying fuck how much Gale squirms. The more the better. Son of a bitch is lucky his head hasn't parted company with his shoulders by now.
To some, it might have looked like Adair has been stalling, and maybe part of that rumor had some fundaments of truth. After the raid--Adair still can't think of that day without a violent shiver raking down his spine--he hadn't said more than a few words to the four of them altogether, much less in individual convos. Adair didn't even address Gale, as though he didn't exist. As though the major fuck up that had been Lachlan's capture hadn't happened.
But it had happened, and in the aftermath, Adair's willpower alone had prevented the crew from slipping a few paces off the top in the Dance Wars, the rehearsals frequent and punctuated by long, menacing silences. It would've been enough to crush any man's nerves, but Adair couldn't care less, his mind still wrapped around morbid, terrible thoughts as to what could've happened to Lachlan after he'd left him, possibly the single most stupid decision in Adair's life.
Things have flipped around now. Now he has Lachlan back, and he's never felt as resolute. "I thought we could spice things up a little tonight," Adair says evenly. He can feel the four of them stiffen in their seats, and Gale's eyes sharpening on him, but he keeps looking utterly casual, as if he's discussing the matters around drinks. "It's overdue, don't you think?"
Ezra smiles, and even though Adair knows he shouldn't give the game away, he should keep his cards close to his chest, he smiles back at him. It's good to know he's got at least one loyal friend. "I most surely do."
"Good." Adair nods and shifts on the bench to fixate his glare on Gale. "Get up."
Gale scoffs. "Don't see why I would want to," he spits back, the challenge very much open.
Adair bares his teeth in a smirk. Works for him. "I'm telling you to get up." He speaks softly, but his voice can be heard around the table even above the loud thumping of the music. "And you will get up, you useless piece of shit, unless you wanna show everyone how much of a fucking coward you are."
The taunt does the trick. Gale stands, slamming his palms flat on the table. "Watch who you're calling coward, you arrogant self-absorbed dick," he seethes. "What, you've finally decided to grow some balls? Bring it on."
Adair laughs under his breath. It's a cold, chilling sound, and Morgan shifts uncomfortably at Adair's side. "Then you shouldn't have a problem stepping into the ring with me."
Gale leans on the table, glacial eyes meeting Adair's own. "Lead the way." He spits down on the floor as he pushes past a silent Dagan, coming to a halt in front of Adair. "Well?"
Adair uncurls from the booth, the fluid roll of his body already falling into pace with the rhythm of the music blaring in the pub. "A couple of ground rules," Adair whispers, going right in Gale's face. "One, winner takes all. You clear off the Chlodwig and never bother me or the guys again, ever."
"You mean, you'll clear off the Chlodwig and never bother me or the guys ever again," Gale says, his lips splitting in a malevolent smile.
The dormant predator in Adair raises its head, sniffing blood. "Two," Adair continues, as though Gale hasn't spoken, "if you want to hook up with Noah or any of our contacts, feel free to do so, but never come to Washington again."
Gale smirks. "I'm going to enjoy wiping the floor with your mutant ass so much, you have no idea."
Adair laughs. In any other circumstances, Gale would've already been out cold, but this is different. He's not about to use violence to fix this, no matter how tempting that sounds. If he wants to salvage the crew and their jobs, he has to prove himself, not only to them, but to everyone at the Chlodwig, or they're never going to get out of this.
They walk into the ring, the rest of the contestants slinking back to the sidelines to watch the one-on-one. Adair's crew stands too, uncertain, and Adair sees in his peripheral vision Ezra whispering in Morgan's ear, stopping them from coming any closer. Something flares in his chest amid the adrenaline of the fight, and he bites back a grim, satisfied smile.
He's going to settle this once and for all.