Perhaps it was testament to the degree of trust between the two, but Sparks felt incredibly comfortable giving control of the station to Croach for a weekend. It had never been an issue before, after all.
That being said, there was a first time for everything—at least, that was the thought that came, unbidden, to him when he returned. Nothing was amiss at first glance, but the fine layer of dust over their respective desks spoke to the station being unoccupied or unused for some time. It was eerily silent, and Sparks wasn't entirely sure how to feel about that yet.
"Croach?" His voice echoed slightly as he dropped his bag behind his desk. "Y'ain't dead, are you?"
A muffled grunt of reply came from down the hall, and Sparks followed it to one of the smaller rooms branching off from the station itself, a cross between a spare office and an interrogation room. The door was still closed, and he knocked lightly on the frame. "Everything okay in there?"
A second muffled sound of acknowledgment, one Sparks could only assume was one granting him permission to enter as he keyed in the entry code. The doors hissed open, providing him with both context and answers to the emptiness of the station.
The air was stale from the room having been closed up, possibly for most of the weekend. As to the rest of it… there were, by Sparks' not at all scientific measuring system, a lot of empty amber bottles lined up in neat, almost military rows on the worktop in front of Croach. The one he was holding now was almost empty, and he swirled the liquid within it almost… pensively. When he lifted his gaze, it was unfocused.
"Hey," Sparks greeted, coming to stand an arm's length away from him. "Croach, did… did you drink all of these in the one weekend?"
Croach looked down at the bottle in his hand. When he spoke, his voice was hoarse from disuse, but the words were clearly enunciated. "I have made a terrible mistake."
"Well…" he began bracingly, if nothing else trying to spare Croach's pride but ultimately coming up short. "Happens, I guess?"
"I thought I could…" His expression hardened, and with sudden, terrifying speed, he threw the bottle in his hand against the opposite wall.
The amber glass shattered on impact, sending shards in every direction. Sparks lifted his arms to protect his face from the flying glass, lowering them in time to see him seize a second bottle and draw his arm back to throw that one as well.
Even drunk, Croach was significantly stronger than any human counterpart—and with his inhibitions compromised, it would take precious little for it to end badly. The gap between them closed almost instantly as Sparks grabbed Croach's wrists, hoping and praying to the heavens that he could at least keep him from breaking anything more (up to and including a bottle over his head). "Don't—"
The fight in him seemed to almost evaporate, and his muscles relaxed enough that Sparks trusted him enough to let go. As he was released, his arm lowered, the soft clink of glass bottles impossibly loud in the tense air. "I need help, Sparks."
A thought occurred to Sparks. Over the years, he had seen Croach get put through a great variety of ringers, things that would kill or maim a human and perhaps any other species of alien. Now, the look on his face as their gaze fully met for the first time, was nothing less than genuine pain. "C'mon," he said at length, hauling Croach to his feet. "Let's start by getting you sober."
• • •
To say that Croach, settled at Sparks' dining room table with his head in his hands, was a sorry sight was a vast understatement. Sparks certainly didn't envy him the headache he'd have later, but he couldn't deny the twinge of pity he felt as he set both water and coffee in front of him. "Get started," he instructed, the words short, but the tone almost gentle.
After a moment, Croach moved for the coffee first, his fingers curling around the mug. Aside from a half-hearted quip about it being the fourth most stale cup of coffee he'd consumed in recent memory, he didn't speak. Neither did Sparks.
He had moved on to the water when he seemed to finally find something to say. "I thought I was past this."
"So you went and poked the sleeping bear?" Sparks asked, eyebrows lifting as he took a sip of his own coffee.
"Metaphor is unnecessary in this situation, Sparks Nevada…" Croach paused, his attention more on the kitchen table than on his companion. "But yes."
"Hell, Croach—why in God's name would you think you're past being an alcoholic?" Croach winced, and Sparks immediately regretted saying it like that. " Okay, maybe that's a little harsh—"
"No, I—I appreciate your honesty," he reassured.
"Did you think your nanotech would help?" he quizzed, allowing enough pause for Croach to corrected his pronunciation. " It's not a vaccine, buddy—"
"I am aware," Croach mumbled. "I… thought I was past it because I wished to be."
There was something painfully honest, almost raw, in the confession, and they were silent as Sparks processed it. " Wishing something into existence ain't that easy, Croach," he finally murmured. "Trust me."
Croach shook his head. "I do not think you and I are speaking about the same thing, Sparks Nevada—"
"Croach, I watched you die," he interjected. A lot of unpleasant memories, both physical and emotional, about that incident came unbidden to his thoughts, and he had to fight to push them away. "You think there wasn't a night after that I wasn't wishing you were still alive?"
The words hung heavy in the air for a moment before he went on. "You told me you needed help. If you still want it—"
"I do," he insisted, "and what about when… this happens again?"
Sparks' brow furrowed, almost as if he were confused why Croach would even ask. " I'm gonna give you a cup of stale coffee and we'll start over—what did you think we were gonna do?"