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Fess Up You Dressed Up to Kill Yourself

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I'm just here to hold your hand when you die
and to show you around imaginary places

-

Carlotta calls him at three am. He's been dreaming, but his dreams are never good so he doesn't mind the interruption. She says, "There's a situation," and she sounds distressed, but it's Carlotta so that might mean that her house burned down or it might mean that damned dog she loves so much caught a cold.

"What do you need?" he replies though, because it's Carlotta.

()

The girl is too thin and has pale blonde hair that reaches halfway down her back. She'd probably be beautiful if not for her face being so worked over. Eyes swollen shut to the point where Sam doubts if she can even see at all. "He wouldn't stop hitting me," she says. "I asked him to stop, but he wouldn't. I told him."

"Yes, you've already mentioned that," Carlotta replies unsympathetically. She puts a glass of water and small yellow pills into the girl's hands though. "Take these they'll calm you down until we can get you to the clinic." The girl's hands shake and Carlotta takes the glass away from her and puts it to her lips, orders her to swallow. "What a fucking mess," she says, and mutters something incomprehensible under her breath.

Sam looks around the blood-splattered room and agrees silently. Because of course, the beat-up whore isn't the reason he's here.

()

"He anyone that'll be missed?"

"So what if he is?" Carlotta sighs, but it matters, they both know it does. "I don't know," she says finally. "Genius here decided to turn a trick off the books. Against my explicit, specific orders. Apparently it is too much to ask that they trust me when I tell them not to pick up men in bars like some two-dollar junkie whore with the clap."

The genius girl whispers, "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry."

Carlotta's lips thin. "Just. Make this go away. She's just a fucking kid. Doesn't know her ass from her head more often than not."

"Handy with a switchblade though." Sam tugs the weapon out of the john's neck. Lucky hit, right through the jugular. The girl probably meant to scare rather than kill. Carlotta hands him the man's wallet. Michael Williams. Out of town driver's license, family photos - wife and two kids plus dog, credit cards. Probably here for business with beating up on whores as a pleasant diversion. Sam nods his head in the direction of the girl, who's started to cry, tiny, hysterical little sobs. "Why don't you go take care of her? Get her cleaned up and to the clinic. I'll handle everything else. Don't worry."

"I always worry, Sam. It's my job."

"I think it's more of an addiction than anything else."

"It's not being a dramatist when you do in fact have reasonable reason to be dramatic."

"Go," Sam says.

()

He never likes to clean up, but it's the job and he's very effective at it. Three hours and Michael Williams disappears, and if he's lucky the gators will get themselves a nice meal and no-one asking questions will find any kind of answer.

"Friends help you move, real friends help you move bodies." But he's done more for Carlotta than just cleanup, and he will never not. He stares at his reflection in the rear view mirror of the car while driving home and tries not to look like he feels, only marginally better than the john currently being eaten into non-existence. It doesn't work too well, his eyes are too bright and his smile is a bad joke on all smiles everywhere.

When he reaches his house he strips off and collapses into the bed, and when he falls asleep he doesn't dream.

()

Carlotta leaves a message on his answering machine the next afternoon, "Drop by," she says. Sam's not going to, but then he does. He recognizes the man standing at the reception way before he sees the flash of gun and badge. Air of superior condescension surrounding him like a fog but his voice is oddly soft and modulated when he says, "Carlotta, now."

"I told you, sir, she doesn't see anyone without an appointment, please."

"You're new so I'll forgive you. Carlotta will see me. Carlotta always sees me."

The City's finest barely looks up when Sam sits down behind him, but the glance is enough to access, file and dismiss.

Sam bares his teeth, but the receptionist - new, definitely, Sam doesn't recognize her, shakes her head almost imperceptibly. There's security here, there always is.

"I thought I told you never to come back here again. It's allright Bruce, everything's fine." The muscle disappears, and Carlotta steps out of her office.

"Carly, dear. Long time. Miss me?"

Carly seems pissed, and a little more flustered than she generally is. She only glares though, and snaps, "Wait upstairs. I have some business to take care of first."

"Sure, whatever you say. Don't be long now. I'll be waiting." Smug, self-satisfied - asshole. Sam doesn't have the patience for this, but apparently Carlotta does, because there's a flicker of amusement in her face, before she buries it under a scowl. The cop glances at him one more time before he ambles up, and he's better looking than Sam first thought, all big blue eyes and hair that would probably be lovely if it weren't slicked back like that. Shame about the skin.

()

"Friend of yours?"

Carlotta snorts and shuts the door behind them both. "More like personal albatross. Little shit thinks that he has a badge so he doesn't have to pa-" she cuts herself off and paces across the room like an irritated cat, muttering under her breath.

"Need me to?"

"No, no, I can handle him. Men are all the same."

She waves her hand airily, and blithely ignores Sam's bemused "Of course we are."

"How's the girl?"

"On the way back to whatever small town hell hole she came from. I gave her airfare and told her not to come back. She seemed rather grateful. Better off, in any case."

"I would imagine she might be."

Carlotta sits heavily down next to him and lights a cigarette. "And now I have to deal with that little shitheel. And here I thought today would be a better day."

"They day's not over yet. And you better go, your cop is waiting for you." Sam pauses, then asks casually, "What's his name, by the way?"

"Banks," Carlotta says. "Paul. Used to work vice. Now he's murder police. Still thinks I owe him. Cocksucker."

"Not literally, I imagine."

Carlotta's answering smile is thin. "His type? Never."

"Of course."

()

Waiting for Carly. Sometimes it seems like he spends his entire fucking life waiting for Carly. She'll stroll in, hair severely bunned up only to spit at him in annoyance, and it's not fucking worth it, even out of vice he can get free pussy anytime. And yet here he is, still. He closes his eyes, and somehow manages to drift off, because when he opens them again, Carly is glaring down at him. "You're interrupting my business."

"I once worked a whorehouse where a john had sliced a girl's throat open. Even with the flashing blue and uniforms crawling all over the place, somehow at least four to five desperate fucks managed to not notice and went in looking for cunt."

"The difference between your beat and mine, Banks, is that I don't cater to desperate fucks. Except for you, but you have a badge, so I guess that makes you an exception. Look, I've had a rough night so if you don't mind I-"

"What kind of a rough night? Anything to do with the player waiting for you so patiently just now?"

"It's none of your business and neither is he." She's being evasive, fidgeting nervously and tugging on the hem of her skirt. But that's not why he's here, so he only smiles and reaches out without warning. Carly backs away but he already has her wrist gripped tight in his hand. He pulls her down to him and she growls, but doesn't try to get up. "Carly, Carly, he says," and lowers his head to hers. "I missed you."

"I didn't miss you at all."

But she lays her free hand on his chest and pushes, and it irks Paul that this bed they're on with the three-hundred thread count silk sheets probably costs more than all the furniture in his fucking apartment, but he likes the way it only smells of her; expensive perfume and the barest hint of cigarette smoke. Paul sighs and closes his eyes again when she reaches skillfully for his belt. Always the same, no matter how long it's been. "I'm clean now," he says, just because he wants her to know. As if it matters. She doesn't respond, just takes his hard-on into her mouth, so he assumes it doesn't.

()

Carlotta calls him as he's stepping into a cab from the airport, on the way back from a tedious job out of the city. Sam fucking hates it anywhere but here because at least he knows this shithole better than all the others. He liked the money offered more than the loathing to leave so he went, and maybe it's because of jet-lag or maybe it's just to shut her up because she can be persistent when she wants to be, which is pretty much always, he says, "Yeah, okay. Fine. Fine."

()

Daniel, Carlotta says his name is. Daniel and he's "eighteen" and barely broken in, "Define barely, Carlotta," and she only shrugs.

"They're worth more if they're exclusive and difficult to procure, even for the right amount of money."

Sam's never quite understood Carlotta's sense of propriety, even though he appreciates the women and boys she sends to him on occasion. Sex commoditized is about the only way he wants it nowadays, it's easier and far less complicated when there's absolutely no intimacy involved. This boy though. Daniel. Daniel who's so special she needs to personally introduce him rather than just delivering him for a fuss free hour or so. Daniel who is "eighteen" and barely broken in. Daniel who wears a suit that Sam would be proud to own and who doesn't seem to speak. Daniel who, Sam for some reason is certain, is a bad fucking idea.

"Listen, Carlotta."

"Don't say no. You'll hurt his feelings." She adjusts Daniel's collar absently, and Daniel smiles and ducks his head. The glance he gives to Sam from under his lashes is brief and mostly unreadable, but it's enough.

The ringing in his ears is surely blood rushing to his head, or away from it, he's not sure.

"Daniel," he says. "It's nice to meet you."

()

Come on come on come on, Sam's in the backseat of his car, Daniel follows him out dutifully, because at some point between him introducing himself and Daniel awkwardly taking his extended hand in response, firm grasp, he hadn't expected that, but his hand was soft and pristine, like the rest of him, Sam said, "I'll give him back to you tomorrow. Perhaps."

Or only perhaps, because Daniel's on the floor in-between his legs, and Sam hears rather than sees, the heavy clink of his belt being undone and his zipper pulled down, he's already hard, already almost there, but then Daniel swallows him down, his mouth hot and wet and unpracticed enough for Sam to not be able to predict his moves, his fingers uncertain on Sam's knees and thighs, unable to settle for lack of knowledge of where to settle them, and Sam sighs because it's too slow and it's a fucking tease and he's teetering on the edge of being out of control here and he's never been comfortable there.

So he does what he never does, which is to close his eyes, and rest his head on the back of the seat. Acutely aware that his throat is displayed and vulnerable, but even more acutely aware of Daniel's tongue on his dick and the faint scraping of his teeth enough to make Sam hiss, and then he's mouthing words, mostly to himself, and raising his head dizzily, and Daniel's just staring at him, expression as unfathomable as it was when they met, and Sam comes.

()

On the ride back to Sam's house Daniel looks out the window in almost wide-eyed curiosity. "What, you've never been around the city?" Sam asks at one point, and Daniel shakes his head.

"Not exactly. Mostly I've been at Carlotta's." His voice is of a lower pitch than Sam had expected, but at least he can speak and is only mute by intent.

"Not much of a conversationalist, are you, kid? You hungry? I'm hungry. Let's stop somewhere for supper. I know an Italian place where the cook will open up the kitchen for me."

But Daniel does, in fact, talk, over fettuccine and wine that Sam was reluctant to give him at first "You're too young to be drinking", but then he got a Look, the first of many Looks that Sam somehow finds himself tolerating, even though tolerating isn't what he does. Talks a mile, if asked a direct question, only he never actually says anything, not anything meaningful at least, and after a while Sam just stops listening and watches him instead, delicate movements and delicate wrists, watches him eat and drink with the effortless grace of someone who's been raised to dine in fine restaurants - Sam can't decide if it's Carlotta's training or not, it's intriguing for some reason.

Or perhaps it's just intriguing because Sam wants to fuck him.

()

Back home Daniel wanders around, touching things as if he owns them, as if he owns the house. Sam watches, mostly amused and a little fascinated; this tiny boy with his expensive bespoke suit, hands in his pockets as he peers at Sam's bookshelf. "See anything you like?"

"I didn't know you read - um, what I meant was um-"

"It's allright. Most people are under the impression I can't. I like to surprise them. All the books are for show, actually. I've not read a single one."

"Ah."

"That was a joke. Come here."

Daniel just stares at him.

"Come here," Sam repeats patiently. "That wasn't a joke."

His rough idea, in the beginning, had to been to take Daniel up to the bedroom. They end up on the couch instead, Daniel practically in his lap and Sam's grateful now he never let the interior designer he'd hired persuade him to buy that gorgeous but extremely uncomfortable looking black leather two seater, instead settling on plush and cushiony, so he can lay Daniel down on it.

Gets his clothes off, and Daniel's smaller than he'd expected, somehow, smooth-sharp angles and he gasps when Sam wraps his hand around his dick, makes a keening noise into his mouth because at this point Sam has to kiss him, slow and deep just the way he likes it, Sam always loves the burn, but Daniel's not used to that, apparently, so Sam whispers "Patience, grasshopper," but Daniel only whimpers, and it strikes Sam, incongruously, that Daniel probably won't even know where that reference is from; probably wasn't even born then.

He moves back, and Daniel follows, blindly seeking until Sam pushes him down with one palm against his chest, his body yearns for the contact again but that can wait. That can always wait. "Daniel," he says, low and serious. "Open your eyes." He does, reluctantly, glare almost petulant, and that singing slicing through Sam's veins, that's the gold rush of lust and heat and power and he smiles, smooth as a song, "I want you to look at me."

Carlotta trains them well. Daniel's gaze never wavers, not even when Sam fucks him, slides in easy as if they've been doing this together for years, although if that were true Sam's pretty sure it wouldn't feel like this, and he's heady and dizzy and muttering again and again, "fuck fuck fuck", a litany of meaningless words that come together to form a sentence that screams want and need and Sam buries his head in Daniel's neck, everything else forgotten, driving forwards and then back, and then Daniel arches up and moans, soft and shivery and Sam catches it all with one hand, and then his vision goes dark and that's all she wrote.

()

When Sam comes down for breakfast Daniel's already at the kitchen counter, delicately eating toast and drinking coffee. "I fried some bacon and eggs for you, I hope you don't mind."

"Nothing like clogging my arteries in the morning." Sam grabs a chair and Daniel gets up, moves to the stove. "I'm not sure how you like your eggs. Assumed sunny-side up."

"Assumed right." Daniel smiles, and it's surprising, how in the harsh glare of daylight he doesn't look any less elegantly pristine, even with his suit crumpled and his hair mussed. Sam reaches out and fingers soft brown - curls, if he'd let it grow and not style it so heavily. Daniel stills at the touch, and stares at him. "Good morning," Sam says. "I like the curls," and that earns him another Look, but Sam only laughs and pulls him in for a kiss. He tastes like scrambled eggs and milk, and when they stop Sam's out of breath and Daniel is shuddering, just a little. Sam runs his thumb across his cheekbone, soft baby skin under his calluses. "You don't eat meat," and it's an observation, not a question.

Daniel shrugs. "Don't like the taste."

"When I was a teenager I lived on burgers and steaks." He doesn't say that he was mostly scrounging back then, dirty jobs in exchange for dinner or a few bucks. Anything to get by, but he never blew anyone for money; too proud and probably too stupid.

"You should eat your breakfast before it gets cold."

"Probably I should." But he presses his knee in-between Daniel's legs instead, slides his hands around his waist and lifts him onto the counter. "Wrap your legs around me, yeah, that's it."

-

Baby if you strip, you can get a tip
'Cause I like you just the way you are
(I'm about to strip and I'm well equipped
Can you handle me the way I are?)
I don't need the cheese or the car keys
Boy I like you just the way you are
Let me see you strip, you can get a tip
'Cause I like, I like, I like

-

Carlotta says, when Sam calls her again to ask specifically for Daniel, "Sure. But I need him this afternoon. One of my boys didn't show up for an appointment a few nights ago. John just flew back into town; I offered him a freebie as compensation. Wants Daniel, he's been a regular for a couple of months now."

"That's fine. I have work to do; I'll pick him up tonight. Get him ready."

()

Sam's always been grateful for the information age. Life reduced to ones and zeros on a screen, until the job itself is only a matter of showing up on time and taking into account unforeseeable variables. This one is an hour's drive away, rooftop job which makes it impersonal and easy, save for planning the escape route, but he manages and nothing gets fucked up and he's back in time to take Daniel out to dinner. Carlotta is chipper and chatty, and Sam indulges her in idle conversation until Daniel comes down, in a different suit this time but the same tie. "Come on," Sam says. "I have reservations."

He brings Daniel to a Mediterranean restaurant that only serves vegetarian. He's a meat and potatoes kind of guy, but he can appreciate the craftsmanship it takes to create a dish, plus the wine he orders is expensive and almost makes up for the lack of protein. "No," he says this time, when Daniel asks for a glass. This restaurant, Daniel could be his little brother. Or even his son. Nephew, perhaps. Friend of a friend, because they don't look even remotely alike. Not that Sam cares much, beyond his need to remain anonymous, which usually means blending in as much as he can. But he's never been all that good at that in any case. Too stereotypically Sicilian, too scary when he smiles, he speaks softly and deliberately nowadays, and that helps. "Like the food," he asks, leaning back in his seat, mostly just to enjoy watching the boy eat.

Daniel nods his head, but doesn't say anything. Hasn't, almost the entire night. "So what's your story, kid?" Sam asks conversationally.

"Story?"

"Everyone has a story."

"You want to know why I'm a whore instead of working towards my SATs and joining a band and falling in love with girls my own age? Is that what you're asking me?"

Sam raises his brow. If he didn't know better he might think that that was sarcasm in Daniel's tone. "Yes, that's exactly what I'm asking you."

"Just because," Daniel says, and grabs Sam's still full glass of wine. He gulps it down in one long swallow, and purses his lips when he's done. "Just because."

-

Any formalities in the case of police brutality
I've escaped on finer details and minor technicalities

-

Paul has a headache by the time he reaches the scene. He never likes going back to the Strip, too many memories he'd rather not dredge up. The alleyway behind the abandoned apartment block where the body was discovered is familiar, but around this part of town all the alleys are the same, and he's spent enough time in them throwing up or getting high or doing some random whore that they all bleed together after a while, although there was a time where he could name every single joint and whorehouse and pimp in the entire area. Long time ago though, and his memories are mostly drug hazed and flimsy in any case.

He squints at the lights and barely makes out Homme calling him over from the open doorway of the building. "What do we have?" he says, snapping on his gloves. The blood is thick and still in the air as he follows Homme in, steps carefully over broken glass and used needles and bits of fallen concrete. Paul thinks that if he breathes hard enough, he'll probably swallow some down. He grimaces and raises a brow at Homme, who shrugs.

"Fucking nightmare, that's what we have," and Homme doesn't mince words and he doesn't embellish, so Paul braces himself. Not enough, though.

"Jesus Christ. Oh, Christ."

"Yeah, don't think he was in attendance tonight." Homme's hand is on his elbow, and he's leading him away. Casually, like they're just breaking down the case. "Breathe, Banks," he says under his breath. "Go canvas a while, come back. You're the primary on this one, gotta get your feet wet sometime, right?"

"I'm fine," Paul says. "I'm fine." He needs a fucking drink, or perhaps some coke or even some smack, yeah that would hit the spot right there. Homme hands him a cigarette, and Paul drops his head back to blow smoke up into the air. "Fucking nice night for this shit, isn't it?"

"It's always a nice night for this shit."

"Yeah. Come on."

()

Almost dawn and he's at Carlotta's doorstep, ringing the bell for the past ten minutes and still the bitch won't open the door. "Carlotta, come on. Let me in." She opens the window instead, and Paul beams up at her.

"What did I say about coming here? Plus this is my home, Banks, not my fucking office. Make an appointment. How the fuck did you find out where I'd moved to anyway - oh fuck you fucking police are all the same. Patriot act privacy invading stasi motherfucker-"

"Carly," Paul interrupts, calm as a fucking bullet. "Open this door or I will break it down."

"I caught this case," he says, because she lets him in, of course she does, if only to not wake the neighbors. She moved to a nice neighborhood, they wouldn't appreciate the noise. He gets her on the bed, pushes her face down into the pillow and allows his body to fall heavily onto her thin back. The hair is loose, and fuck but he likes it when it's late and the heavy gel she uses to straighten it is washed off. She seems more real somehow, less Carlotta and more deserving of Carly. "Wanna know about this case I caught?"

"Not particularly," she says, muffled but distinct.

"Bitch," he replies easily, and jams his thigh in between her legs. She moans when he slides his fingers up into her, presses down against his hand. "This case," he continues, and she'll shut up when she wants him to make her come, most of the time. "This fucking kid. I think he was fifteen or something. Maybe younger, we don't have an ID yet. Don't think I've seen anything like it. Sliced open from throat to groin, crime scene smelled like a fucking slaughterhouse."

Carly lifts her head off the bed and blinks blearily at him. "Your dirty talk leaves much to be desired, Banks. I just wanted to inform you of that."

"Shut up and lie back down and I'll let you come."

"I don't need you to - ah, fuck." Paul thrusts his fingers in deeper, and she shudders and arches up against him. Just like that, and he could get his entire fist inside her but then he thinks blood and guts and his hard-on almost disappears, but then she hisses, "Oh God, Paul," and jerks again, and again, and it comes back. Just like that.

When he finally gets around to fucking her afterwards, she's drowsy and sated and barely pays any attention, lets him crawl into her and idly murmur in her ear about what was left of the boy, and his headache that won't go away, and his fucking incessant need for a fucking fix, any kind of a fix, all the time, every time.

-

When the slugs hits, I wonder will the pain last
See my life like a movie, inside my brain fast
I'm asking you, cause we used to rock the same ass
When I die, put me in mausoleum with the stained glass

-

In the car, Daniel's head keeps dropping and he keeps snapping it up again every few seconds. Sam says, "That's what happens when you gulp down wine. It's not soda pop, you have to savor it."

"Does anyone even know what soda pop is anymore?"

Sam wants to snap but Daniel yawns and he decides to turn the radio on instead. Soft music, and before long Daniel's asleep, thin frame pressed against the side of the door. He only wakes up when Sam pulls up into the driveway, stretches and rubs his eyes. "I fell asleep," he mumbles.

"I noticed. You're awake now though. I was worried I was going to have to carry you back into the house."

Daniel bristles. "I can walk by myself, thank you."

"I'm sure you can." But he's pissed now, because Daniel refuses to talk, doesn't answer direct questions and Sam's not used to anyone saying no to him, not used to anyone avoiding his questions with almost sullen defiance and quiet stillness. He's had years of practice to make people listen when he speaks. "Come on," he says. "It's late and probably past your bedtime."

In the bedroom he tugs viciously on his tie and turns on Daniel to snap, "Sit." Daniel does, primly, on the edge of the bed, hands on his knees and eyes downcast. All the world like a child being punished, but there's a clanging in Sam's head, one that's been getting louder ever since they met, one that's he's been ignoring in favor of lust and need and his growing fondness for the kid, that the kid is not a kid at all, which of course is what made it so easy for Sam to fuck him in the first place, but beyond that. Beyond that, there's something totally and utterly wrong with him, and that, that Sam knows for certain, especially now. "Take your clothes off," Sam continues, calm and slow and easy, and he smiles, the one that he knows is all teeth and crinkly eyes and pretty much terrifying, and Daniel's head tilts up. "Not a request."

"But I-"

"That's one."

"You can't just-"

"That's two. You don't want me to hit three, trust me on this one."

Daniel takes a deep breath, and another, and Sam starts counting until he reaches down to remove his shoes and socks. Jacket and shirt and tie that Sam drags from his throat once he gets it undone, wraps around his fist. Naked, eventually, and he shivers slightly until Sam wraps his fingers around his throat, the tie a dark silky contrast against the paleness of Daniel's skin and Sam's hand. "Daniel," Sam says, and pushes him down. "Look at me."

"Let me guess. Not a request?"

"I like it when you're feisty. It's different. Almost like you're a whole 'nother person."

"You don't know me at all."

And that, at least, is the truth.

But it's too late to turn back. He releases Daniel's throat, trails his hand down his chest. All the way, and Daniel only remains soft for a few seconds, the tie's too much friction so Sam spits, and jerks him off slowly, and watches his face change, equally slowly. Daniel's mouth in a soft round o as his fingers fist the sheets and Sam only speaks once, harshly, when Daniel starts to close his eyes, and after that he snaps them open and keeps them open but oh, he hates him and Sam doesn't think that anyone has ever hated him this much, but then he chokes, and comes, hot and fast into Sam's hand, and Sam lets him go, lets him collapse back onto the bed. He wipes his hand with whatever's left unstained of the tie, and after that he knots it loosely and crawls up Daniel's body. "Lift your head," and Daniel complies immediately. Sam drapes the tie around his neck, and when he's done with that kisses him, softly and chastely. It almost tastes like redemption, the way Daniel sighs and relaxes into him, but maybe it just tastes like regret.

His own hard-on he ignores, shuts the bedroom door quietly behind him instead, leaves Daniel there to shower and change in the guestroom and spends the rest of the night buried in his work. Tonight, he wants to plan for someone to die.

()

The first job that went down he'd ended up afterwards in Carlotta's flat, throwing up into the toilet while she patted him on the back and said, "I'm proud of you, Sam. You did good." Carlotta was always strange. They would fuck afterwards, when she wasn't otherwise occupied doing half the city. He remembers those times, mostly, as blank stretches filled with nothing but rage, and the only thing Carlotta never complained about was him slamming into her unceremoniously and as hard as he could for as long as they both could take it. He got careless once, or perhaps he was heading towards that in any case, at some point he'd stopped caring only he'd always had some sort of strange luck until that night when it ran out, double job that was complicated and messy and he dragged himself there and passed out on her doorstep. The next week or so a haze of drugs and pain and Carlotta hovering over him like a pale, chatty wraith.

"Oh, finally," she'd said, on the first day that he'd managed to sit up unaided without passing out from the pain. "I thought I'd have to take care of you forever. You sure take your own sweet time, Fogarino."

"Yeah, I'm such a lazy bastard when I'm shot and bleeding heavily."

"I saved the bullet. Made it into a necklace. Very retro chic. I was very pleased with my own inappropriate sense of comedy."

"Carlotta," Sam said gravely. "You're a fucking peach, you know that?" And he'd kissed her, or tried to, at least for a few seconds, before he felt dizzy and had to lie back down again. She promised to ride him like a stevedore after he'd fully recuperated, fluffed his pillow and ignored his weak protests of "But I feel so much better now honestly...I'm fine."

She'd never made good on that promise, oddly enough, but Sam doesn't hold it against her.

-

Without a gun and a badge, what do ya got?
A sucker in a uniform waitin to get shot

-

"You want the bad news or the bad news?" And it always irked Paul that pathologists had such bad gallows humor. Now, police, they got it down pat, most of them, but Dr. Death always manages to make the worst possible puns. Or perhaps it's just her. Dalle, and Homme has the hots for her which is why Paul doesn't tell him that he fucked her one late night on the autopsy table when he was waiting for some bloodwork and they were both bored and drinking the moonshine she cooked up in the morgue made up of shit he doesn't even want to think about. Somehow he suspects that Homme knows though, and doesn't much care. Fierce, and Paul would do her again but she told him she didn't do sequels. Which is fair enough.

"What's the bad news, sweetie?"

Dalle smiles at Homme, and Paul manages not to roll his eyes. "Bad news is, still no ID, we're not certain yet what the weapon that sliced him open is and there's no trace evidence."

"Careful?"

"Most likely lucky. Our boy was angry as hell. He started from the base of the throat and just kept on hacking until he broke through. That's why it's hard to tell what the weapon is. Probably a serrated blade though, if he used the same weapon to puncture the wrists. See the jagged edges here."

"Don't suppose we have to ask what killed him?"

"Actually you do. The victim was strangled to death. Bare-handed, there are finger imprints on his neck. Probably asphyxiated, although I'll know more when the bloodwork comes in. But everything else was done post-mortem, including the punctures through his wrists."

"I thought our boy would've used blades for the wrists to hold the kid down, keep him still."

Dalle shrugs. "Maybe. I can't say for sure whether he was conscious or not. No defensive wounds though, nothing to indicate he put up any kind of a struggle. It's possible that the victim knew his assailant or he was caught utterly by surprise. I put his age at around fifteen, sixteen at most. Would help if you could get an ID."

"So that's the bad news. What's the bad news?"

"Oh, I was just messing with you. There's no other bad news."

"Well, thanks."

"Yes, but you feel better now don't you, since you know there's nothing worse to come." She lifts up a pale arm, and the flat, vertical gash along and through his entire wrist makes Paul think, for just a second: crucified. "Nothing under the fingernails, but it looks like he had a manicure a day, maybe two, before he died. And his teeth were recently capped."

"I figured he was a hustler, considering where we found him, but how many of them get manicures and cap their teeth?"

"That's your job, Detective Homme, not mine."

"The high-priced ones do," Paul says, and Homme murmurs in assent.

()

Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. Paul's been staring at the autopsy photos for an hour, until it's all a mess of blood and flesh and hair. "Hey," he says, because when everything together is when he sees best. "There."

"What?" Homme leans over his shoulder to look.

"Below the wrist." Almost scratched out, right above the gaping wound. Perp probably hadn't even known it was there or what it meant. "Tattoo," he says, mostly to himself.

"Yeah, but of what?"

"Pimp who works Presidio used to tattoo all his boys, B for Beckett. He's dead though, found him in a dumpster maybe six months ago."

"Presidio? Not exactly the type of hustlers that get regular pampering, are they? Down there you're lucky if they even got teeth, half the time."

"I would think that the lack of teeth would be a boon rather than a detraction," Paul says distractedly, staring at the photos some more. Something about Beckett's boys that he'd heard. Fuck if he could remember though.

"Some of us like a little bite in the suck, Banks."

()

The bartender working the pub that shares the alley with the abandoned building where the body was found doesn't look familiar at all. Paul asks, "Where's Travis?" and the guy shrugs.

"Got married, moved down to the suburbs. Fell in love with a girl and all that. Ain't that always how it goes. I took over from him, right."

"Sure," Paul says, vaguely relieved, because he remembers suddenly the last time he was here. He'd come in looking for a pool table and to score some smack, ended up with a skinny blonde crack whore blowing him in one of the darker corners and fleecing him afterwards when he'd almost passed out in the bathroom. He had backhanded her across the face once he'd managed to shake off the haze and gotten thrown out for his trouble, all "Never darken my doorstep again, asshole." Good times.

"This boy," Homme says, holding up the head shot they'd gotten from the crime lab. "Seen him around here? Might've been a hustler."

"That's the kid that got butchered couple nights ago right? Heard it was a mess. Bad for business too."

"Just answer the question."

"He ain't rough trade, he ain't been here. You want to try a little further up the street. I heard the fags with suits sometimes parade their expensive little toys there." He stops wiping down the bar counter to narrow his eyes at Paul. "You a friend of Travis's?"

"No," Paul says. "No I'm not."

()

"This place is new," Paul says, to Homme, but mostly to himself. "Used to be a strip joint."

"Yeah? Nice girls?"

"Allright. There was this cowgirl, who used to do things with a rope." He'd busted in on her, one night, snorting coke, and gotten a really sweet ride for his trouble and a promise not to bring her in. It went on for a while, until she found Jesus and decided to ride on God's Grace or some shit like that. Paul says, "I wonder if the poles are still up."

The manager in the club says, "No we don't peddle underage kids excuse me while I call my lawyer," but he admits that the boy had been there before when Homme feeds him the usual line about just wanting info, no heat if he only complied. "Not that night though. And no, gentlemen, I do not know his name."

"You sure, Mr. Saporta?"

"Yes, I'm sure. This establishment caters to a discreet, exclusive clientele. If he'd come in that night I would know. But the last I saw him was a week ago, possibly even two." Saporta seems too young to be managing a club like this, but his eyes are hard and dark and his smile never quite reaches them, as much as it never leaves his face.

"Any regulars?"

"Really couldn't say."

"Know who pimped him out?"

"Really couldn't," but he hesitates at Homme's mild frown of discontent. "C, she calls herself C. Carlotta. Used to be a whore, now she runs high priced boys and girls." Saporta starts picking up glasses and polishing them, but his tone of voice is way too casual when he says, "I heard that crazy bitch took out Billy Beckett. Slit his throat and put him in a dumpster."

"Heard from whom?" Homme asks.

"Around. Rumors and conjecture, mostly. I wouldn't put it past her, though. She sure took in all his boys fast enough."

"Do you know where we can find this Carlotta?"

Paul doesn't pay attention when Saporta gives them an address he's familiar with. He waits until they're outside and then tells Homme, "I'll drop you off and pick Carlotta up."

Homme raises a brow and eyes him contemplatively, but only says, "Yeah, sure, Banks. I gotta date with Dr. Death in any case. Check out if bloodwork is back. Maybe she's got something for us."

()

Carlotta allows him to grab her by the wrist and drag her out, at least until they hit the streets. Then she wrenches her arm away and hisses at him, "How dare you, I'm not some two dollar whore you can manhandle all you want."

"No, you're just a pimp who trades little boys to perverts for a buck."

"You know nothing about what I do." She rubs her wrist narrows her eyes at him. "Besides, you're hardly one that should take the moral high ground with me. Did you ask for the ID of all the girls that you stuck your dick into when you were supposed to be serving and protecting them? Because I can recall how young some of them were if you can't."

Paul flinches, despite himself, and Carlotta's lips curl up in satisfaction. "You're just a thug with a badge and a license to carry a weapon, Banks. That's not respect that you garner, it's fear. There's a difference."

"And you're a whore in an expensive dress. Not even one worth two dollars."

"You don't seem to complain. And don't think I would let your filthy self near me if you weren't five-o. Because there's not enough money in the world, not for you." She's breathing hard by this point, the color high on her pale cheeks.

Paul's had enough. Carlotta always knows exactly where to wound, like an unerringly accurate bullet to the gut. He opens the door and says, "Get in. We're going down to the station."

"Are you going to arrest me again, officer sir?"

"No, I'm bringing you in for questioning. Now get in, like the good, law-abiding citizen you are."

He doesn't look at her the entire ride over, just grips the wheel tight and listens to her shift restlessly in the next seat. She seems mildly surprised when they do in fact end up at the station, but resolutely doesn't ask him for what reason until he puts her in the box and goes to fetch Homme.

()

Carlotta chain-smokes, ignoring Homme utterly to glare mutely at Paul. The photos he'd shown her she'd shoved aside with disgust, "What's the purpose of showing these to me? I know he's dead. I didn't kill him."

"Nobody said you did. Unless you have something to hide," Paul says. "Carlotta-"

"That's Mrs. Dengler to you."

"What, you're married now? People marry whores nowadays?"

"This is what you dragged me all the way down here for? To harass and insult me? Fuck you."

Paul says pleasantly. "No, I dragged you all the way down her for shits and giggles. Because you're a cunt and I like wasting valuable police time just for the hell of it." Behind him, someone exhales. Homme. Paul had forgotten he's there. In the box, they have a rhythm, back and forth, that twists and turns and pressures and that ultimately, mostly, results in someone breaking. Two seconds of Carlotta in there with him and he's disregarding all that and fuck this, it's not even worth it, not today.

"I want a lawyer," is what Carlotta says now, folding her arms resolutely.

"Fuck you, you don't get a lawyer. You get to tell me everything you know about this kid before I shut you and your operation down and do not think for a second that I won't."

"You fond of tattooing your kids, Mrs. Dengler?" Homme cuts in, smooth as graveled ice.

"No, not me. His former pimp did. I just took him in afterwards. Real nice guy. Got along well with Paul here."

Paul flinches at her casual mention of his first name, but only says, "Died under mysterious circumstances, if I recall. Case is still open."

"Yeah, your murder po-lice aren't very efficient, are they?"

"Sexual abuse of minors. Soliciting. Kidnapping. The list of felonies we could pile on you. You'd breathe fresh air when you turn eighty. How will you live without your beauty regime, Carly?"

"Banks," Homme says warningly, but Paul ignores him.

"Well?"

"Fine. Whatever the fuck you say, Detective Banks."

Paul pushes the writing pad towards her. "I want the kid's name, his schedule. Where was he supposed to be the night he was killed."

"Where were you the night he was murdered, Mrs. Dengler," Homme says, and Carlotta's head snaps up.

()

He offers, or insists, on giving her a ride home, and ignores Homme's eye-roll. Paul drives, unaware of where he's heading, mostly, until he realizes that they're nowhere in particular, and he pulls over sharply. Carlotta says, "This isn't the way home," and Paul only rubs the back of his neck with his hand until the crick in his neck loosens. "Fucker," she continues, and the air stills and nothing moves and then he's laying her out on the backseat of the car and tugging her clothes off.

"Carly," he whispers, hot against her cheek, and she stops radiating hate after a while, only calls him Detective Banks in the most desultory tone possible once until he rocks against her and she starts breathing harshly instead. He smears her lipstick with his thumb, misses, suddenly, the dark, almost black shade that used to be her trademark. When he unpins her hair and lets it fall all over him she pats him on the back indulgently and almost gently. It's enough to make him come, pleasure twisting up into his head and making it spin. Afterwards he spreads her legs open and kneels between her knees, watches her face as he eats her out, as she comes, hot and wet into his mouth, gasping something needy and incomprehensible.

"Beckett," Paul says, when Carlotta is lacing up her boots and Paul is sliding his hand aimlessly down one silky thigh. "Beckett," he repeats, when she ignores him.

She stills, but only says resolutely, finally, "Bastard got what he deserved. You should get back. Your partner must be worried."

"He'll be fine. Carlotta."

"I far prefer your hair ungelled." Her fingers on his head are feather light, smoothing down strands sticky with gel that he hates but slicks on because otherwise he can't keep it at this length.

"Regs," Paul says. "No choice." She won't look at him, so he whispers into her ear instead, close enough that he can feel her shudder. "Guy that caught the case. His name's Valensi. Used to partner with Homme. Homme asked for a transfer, and I'm a fucking wreck and he's still willing to put up with me, so it figures that no one has to worry that Valensi will be closing some six month old case that's dead cold right now."

"Banks," Carlotta says, and her face shuts down with an almost physical snap, "I don't know what the fuck you're going on about. But you can drive me back now."

()

Homme glares at him from across the table. Been glaring for the past ten minutes, and Paul's been ignoring it to write up his report. "What," he says finally.

"She lawyered up. You know how it goes."

"She's a whore. It doesn't matter how it goes. Besides, we got what we needed."

"I'm glad you used your time in vice so productively. Contacts all around. Everyone loves you."

Paul's smile is twisted, but he only says, "Guess we get to be the lucky ones to inform the parents their kid is dead."

"Or not." Homme looks up from his own computer to say. "Ran the kid's name. Grew up in foster care. No stable home, in and out of juvee. Petty shit, mostly. Last known place of residence was...Joy's Halfway House."

"Wonderful," Paul says. Dead end, but they follow the leads, always. Homme hands him a printout, names of kids and employees in the place for the past five years. "Long list."

"Yeah. Guess we better get busy. Hope you're not betting on getting sleep anytime soon. Oh, and by the way, you got lipstick on your collar."

-

First emergency, doctors performin' procedures
Jesus, I ain't tryin' to be facetious, but
"Vengeance is mine" said the Lord

-

"Tell me about the kid."

"The kid? Oh, you mean Daniel. What do you want to know?"

"He's not one of Beckett's left-overs is he? I thought he was, but he isn't."

Carlotta shrugs. "No, they're generally far more broken than that if they were once Beckett's. I honestly don't know much about him."

"I thought you screened."

"Yes, but. He just showed up, one day. I turn walk-ins away, usually, but he had this. I won't say flair, because that's not it. But a certain quality about him. It was a judgment call, mostly." She pauses. "I didn't make a mistake, did I?"

"I'm not sure," Sam feels the sigh on him, heavy like steel, and suddenly he's a forty year old man wanting a boy to be less than what most of them are at that age. Wanting him to be something else, entirely. Complex doesn't have to mean complicated, and perhaps the kid is just growing up and Sam's reacting to that. Perhaps he should stop thinking beyond his dick. "He's strange," he settles on, finally. "Just strange. Evasive, but I suppose they all are."

"Funny though," she says, almost to herself. "It's almost as if he chose you, in the end."

"What do you mean?"

"I'm not sure. Something he said, that made me pick him for you. I can't recall what it was exactly. Probably wasn't important."

"Hey, Carlotta. What do we do, here?"

"I think we peddle innocence to the highest bidder."

Sam rubs his face with his hands tiredly and says, "Yeah, that's what I think we do too."

()

His mother used to sing him carols when he was a kid. Soft Sicilian that he can't speak or understand anymore, but that was a long time and a long way away. Sam likes to think of that though, when he visits her. How her hair used to flow into his face when he lay in her lap. How she always smelt so good, even on the bad days. "How's she doing?" he asks the nurse. Michelle, she's been here twenty years and she's always been nice so Sam takes care of her, got her kid out of trouble that one time, but Michelle never has any good news, to the point where "the same" is good news. "Hey, Ma," he says, and kisses her on the forehead. She smells of talcum powder and soap, the expensive kind that he buys and requests that they use.

"We went for a walk the other day," Nurse Michelle says, and Sam remembers when he used to think she was hot. Now she has middle-aged spread and uses too much make-up to hide her wrinkles, and he barely notices her sexuality at all, not in that sense that he used to, where he'd think "yeah, okay," for everyone he found even remotely attractive. "She enjoyed it, I think. Fresh air is always good." Michelle runs her hand softly down his mother's head and says, "I'll leave you two alone."

"I brought you a new book," he says, when she's gone. "I know how you enjoyed the last one. This one, I think, is better."

()

When he gets home the lights are down low, and Sam thinks at first that Daniel's left, but there's the smell of cooking in the air, and when he follows it into the kitchen he finds him stirring a pot over the stove. He's put on one of Sam's old heavy chequered cotton shirts and paired it with jeans. It's startling somehow, illusions that he'd created entirely by himself disappearing that easily. "About yesterday," Daniel begins, and he looks sheepish and apologetic, and it's an act and that's what he's been trained and paid to do, but he's exhausted and heady and he doesn't care. He shakes his head before Daniel can continue to talk, runs his fingers along the side of his face and waits until he raises it to kiss him. Tentatively at first, hesitatingly seeking something he can't quite place, but Daniel doesn't move away. Instead he relaxes into Sam, and Sam kisses him again, open mouthed and hot and he thinks it's Daniel that's trembling, for a moment, but then he realizes that it's him. "Fuck yesterday, okay? Fuck everything," he says, harsh against Daniel's lips, and Daniel nods his head. Sam pulls closer still, and body-to-body he feels familiar, feels like home.

"I made you dinner."

"I could tell. That's my favorite. How did you know?"

Daniel's answering grin is this short of sly. "I guessed?"

"Good guess. Smart boy."

"Here, taste." He holds up a ladle filled with rich brown sauce. Sam tastes, and nods appreciatively in response.

-

Too harsh, too hungry, too many, that's why
These streets know game, can't ball, don't play
Heavy traffic, one lane, everybody MOVE

-

Daniel Kessler refuses an offer for a soda, asks for bottled water instead. He answers all of Paul's questions with almost preternatural calmness while he sips the water. Keeps licking his lips though, and refuses to make eye contact. "I was supposed to meet the uh, gentleman, at seven for dinner, but uh, Carlotta needed me for some other arrangement, so she sent Pete instead."

"The joh- uh, your gentleman friend, he said he waited for almost an hour but when no-one showed up he called Carlotta."

"Yes, and he had a business meeting out of town but he flew back a couple of days later and I met him at the Hilton. Mr. Edwards doesn't enjoy coming to Carlotta's. He always makes appointments for elsewhere."

"Cobra, is that where you usually meet up?"

"Yes. It's nice. They serve dinner there, the food's pretty good."

"How long were you at the Hilton for?"

"Two hours. I had another appointment afterwards and Mr. Edwards, he had to catch his flight. Another meeting. I think he told me he was going to Europe for a few months."

"Who was the appointment with?"

He keeps silent, but Homme says, "It's okay," and Daniel nods his head. Paul writes the name down automatically, makes a note for a follow up - low priority.

"It should have been me," the kid says, almost inaudibly. "It was supposed to be me. I didn't even - I never talked to him, even though he was always nice to me."

"Hey kid. Kid." Homme puts his hand on the kid's shoulder and leans in close. "None of this shit is your fault, you understand?"

"Tell Carlotta I appreciate her dropping you off," Paul says. "You can go."

()

Homme says, "Strange kid."

"Hey, didn't that Kessler kid say that Wentz never showed up to meet the john for dinner? Stomach contents of the autopsy report say the kid ate a hamburger and fries right before he died."

"Maybe he was hungry."

"Or."

"Let's go shake Mr. Saporta up."

Gabe Saporta says, "How exciting. I've always wanted to be inside a police station. This is the box, right? Awesome."

"I'm surprised you haven't already. I'd think you were a regular customer."

"I told you. I'm a legitimate businessman. I'm not a criminal." His smile is toothy and wide and utterly charming. "Now, what is this about?"

Paul pushes the photo of Wentz across the table towards Saporta. "Let's talk about how you lied when you said the kid never showed up at your club. How much did Edwards pay you? Or were the two of you in collusion? Chopping up a fifteen year old for sport, Mr. Saporta. You might want to get used to the inside of a box."

"Pretty boy like that, I'm sure he'll be very popular," Homme says.

"Oh, this is the part where I'm threatened with prison rape. It really is exactly like it is on tv. How fascinating."

Homme throws the file of crime scene photos onto the table; glossy images of flesh and blood and bone spill out all across the scarred wooden surface. "Does this look like television to you, Mr. Saporta?"

Saporta pales. "Hey now, I didn't-"

"So maybe you got tired of just watching these kids come in with their johns, decided you wanted some action for yourself. Or maybe snuff is more lucrative than managing some tired old joint that caters to hustlers and their pedo tricks."

"So we decided to kill him in the building just a couple of blocks away? Are you crazy?"

"Hey, I said you were greedy, I never said you weren't dumb."

"I am not dumb, I am not a fag, and most of all, I am not a murderer."

"Then tell us what happened." Paul leans forward and stares intently at him, the picture of earnest sincerity. Give us the whole truth, and all will be fine in the end. Everyone wants to believe, even those that are guilty as sin.

"Allright, allright." Saporta rubs his face wearily. "The kid was there, yeah, but he never met Edwards. Pete, he had a thing with one of my waiters. They were in love or something stupidly romantic like that. Pete shows up and they were arguing, back in the kitchen, but it was a busy night and I didn't pay much attention. Look, he's just a kid too, okay? I'm sure he didn't kill Pete."

"What's your waiter's name?"

"I."

"Name."

"Mikey. His name's Mikey Way."

()

Someone's on his way out of his apartment when they drop by looking for him. "Mr. Way," Homme says. "Michael Way."

"No, that's my brother. I'm Gerard. Sorry, I'm late for work. I can't really talk to you right now."

He's wearing light blue scrubs underneath a coat, and Paul asks, "Where do you work."

"It's a free clinic, down on fifth, the Silver Cross, and they're horribly understaffed. I have to go." He tries to evade them, but Homme smoothly blocks his way, and finally he just stops and twists his pale face up in frustration. "My brother's not home," he says finally. "I don't know where he is."

"Do you know this boy?" Gerard barely glances at the photo before he's shaking his head.

"Pete, yeah. I'm sorry he's dead. He seemed like a nice kid."

"Your brother and him were seeing each other."

"Yeah, yeah. They were. Look, Mikey's a good kid, okay, but he's just a kid. He thought he was in love. It was kinda cute, actually."

"Your brother's boyfriend is dead, Gerard. That's hardly cute."

Gerard almost recoils, and he crumbles, slumps against the doorframe. "My brother had nothing to do with that."

"Then you won't mind telling us where he is. He's less likely to get hurt if you do."

"I don't know," Gerard says, with finality.

()

"You should find yourself a nice girl, Banks. Get married, settle down. Have those two-point-four kids everyone's always so excited about."

"Ah, domestic bliss. How many times have you been married again? Oh yeah, I remember. None."

Homme grins and takes a sip of his coffee. "At least I want to. The goal is the first step towards achieving it. That's what a fortune cookie told me once." They'd made a few phonecalls and found out that the younger Way had an ex-girlfriend that lived twenty minutes away from their apartment. "Fuck, I hate tracking down these little punks. They're all dumb as rocks in any case, they might as well just give it up. Do you think I have a shot with Dr. Death?"

"No," Paul says, and throws his cigarette butt out the car window. "Hand me that bagel, would you?"

Homme passes it to him and continues, "Naw, I'm sure she likes me. She's the one. I can tell."

"They're always the one. I remember, what was her name? Nicky?"

"Nicky was a psycho bitch," Homme says darkly. "Dr. Death is nothing like that."

"Huh." Paul pulls up in front of the lackluster block of apartments and turns off the engine. "She is so out of your league, man."

"Fuck you."

The elevator's broken, so they have to walk up five flight of stairs to the girl's apartment. "Christ I hate these punk kids, did I mention that?"

"At least twice in the last five minutes, yeah." Paul rings the doorbell, and the girl that opens the door at first tries to slam it back in their faces, but when Homme puts his hand and weight on it she sighs and glares at them both through heavily lined eyes.

"Do you have a warrant? If not just fuck off."

"We don't need a warrant. We would just like to talk to Michael."

"Well he's not here so I guess you're shit out of luck."

Homme sighs. "Miss, please."

She's shaking her head stubbornly when a skinny, pale kid comes up behind her and says, "Alicia, it's okay. It's fine. I'll go with them."

()

Mikey Way pushes his glasses up his nose and says quietly, "I loved him. I didn't-"

"Just tell us the truth, Mikey. Kid. We all only want to find out what went down." Homme puts his hand gently on Way's arm, and Way takes a deep, shuddering breath.

"I kept telling him to get out - he wouldn't, he said he was going to earn enough money so we'd be set, it was fine, I don't do too badly working at Cobra, I just didn't want those dirty old creeps all over him. Some of them are like, thirty or something. It's gross. He promised me, but then he showed up to meet that john, and we fought. But we."

"You just take your time."

"So he said, he wouldn't do that trick. He'd get out. I gave him some food from the kitchen and told him to wait for me outside until after my shift. Only I came out and he wasn't there. I thought maybe he got tired of waiting and went down to the arcade or something. He does that sometimes. Then I find out he's dead."

They both wait until Mikey finishes sobbing and can speak again. "I thought," he says haltingly. "He said he was gonna call Carlotta, tell her he wanted out. Kept insisting that she wasn't like Beckett, wouldn't cut him up if he wanted to leave. He was always too trusting for his own damned good."

"Do you know if he did? Call Carlotta?"

"I don't know." Mikey shrugs.

()

"So," Homme says, after they cut Mikey loose.

"Don't like either one of them."

"Yeah, me neither. Your whore girlfri-"

"No," Paul says. Homme opens his mouth, and Paul says again, "No."

-

See I don't need no alcohol
Your love makes me feel ten feet tall
Without it I'd go through withdrawal
Cause nothing even matters, at all

-

Sam's had too much to drink, and he's sitting by the pool, glass in one hand and feet in the water, watching Daniel swim. When he'd bought the place, the Real Estate Agent had told him that the Olympic sized pool was great for hosting pool parties. "Your wife I'm sure-"

"I'm not married."

"Oh, I'm sorry, I assumed." He was still wearing his wedding band then, from his first marriage, and he'd shrugged apologetically and told her he was recently divorced. The pool was part of the reason he'd bought the house though, he liked the feel of the water over his head when he swam, and it was mostly to keep fit but also because it was always so peaceful underwater, as if he could sink in and the world would be reduced to that particular moment, filled with nothing but the sound of his own heart beating like thunder.

He only swam like Daniel is doing now though, his body cutting a hard and unyielding path through the water, and he barely slows down whenever he reaches the end, just twists and starts all over again to the other. Trying to reach the edge of the ocean, the edge of the world, and Sam calls out, "Daniel, hey, Daniel. Daniel," and he raises his voice loud enough for Daniel to stop in the middle of the pool and spin around to blink at him, eyes wide and wild. "Come here," he says, and Sam thinks he won't at first, but then he swims over, crosses his arms on the tiled concrete edge and peers up, the "what" a silent question that he refuses to say out loud. "Are you okay," Sam asks, and that's enough for Daniel to turn away and shrug. "Where did you go today? And don't lie to me." And he wants to say it like it's a demand, but it comes out more like a plea than anything else. And when, exactly, did he start almost pleading to teenaged boys to confide their problems to him? Right about now, it would seem.

Daniel pulls himself out of the water, his body lithe and beautiful and a jagged knife wound of suppressed tension, and Sam pulls him forward, presses his mouth over a belly that tastes like chlorine and silk. Daniel trembles, and when he speaks it's in a jumble of words that skeeter on the fringe of hysteria - Sam catches enough to make sense of it: police...murder...boy, and Sam has questions that he will ask Carlotta afterwards, but for now he just wraps his arms around Daniel's waist and pulls him down, kisses him until he stops talking, stops shaking. He moans, "Please," against Sam's lips, and Sam pushes him down onto the tiles. The alcohol in his system combined with need makes him say things he might otherwise not, murmur them like promises against Daniel's overheated skin. Reassurances mostly, empty ones even though Sam would rather not answer than lie, but he can't seem to not now, can't seem to be able to stop telling him that everything will be okay, everything will be allright. Too much friction, Daniel's gasp is part surprise and borders on pain, but Sam kisses him on the forehead, holds him until he stills and his breathing is jagged but not panicky, until the arch of his back means that he wants Sam to move, please, now, and Sam does.

Drags in a breath, and then he's rocking, and Daniel bites down on his lip and his arm reaches down between them but Sam grabs hold of it, one and then the other, raises them up until they're above Daniel's head and he can loosely grip both wrists with one hand. Daniel keens desperately, but Sam whispers, "Shh, baby. Shh. I promise," and he's rocking again, and at some point between one breath and the next, Sam's aware that he's losing it, aware that Daniel's losing it with him, aware that they're breaking down the foundations of the whole fucking universe right now, and it's not even funny anymore, not when Daniel's clinging to him or he's clinging to Daniel and they're both spent and exhausted but neither one of them can stop shaking, can stop touching one another like it would hurt if they did. "I'm sorry," Sam whispers against Daniel's throat, and it's for all the broken promises he's ever made and will continue to make. It's for being a bigger monster than the one that's cutting up young boys for seemingly no reason. It's for the future, always, being shaped by the past.

()

"So far this has shaped up to be a killer week, hasn't it? No fucking pun intended."

"I've had worse. Murderous, even. No fucking pun indented."

Carlotta stops pacing the room to smile twistedly at him. "Do not interrupt me while I'm busy being melodramatic over the catastrophic mess that has been my life these past few days. Or perhaps for once I'm displaying the actual correct amount of drama." But she's shaking, and she fumbles with her cigarette lighter until Sam takes it from her and helps her to light up. "Thanks," she says, and resumes her endless march across the floor in her stilettos. Sam grabs her softly by the shoulders the third time she passes him by. "Daniel, get Mrs. Dengler a glass of whiskey, please."

"Drink," he commands, when Daniel gives him the glass. She swallows the liquor gratefully and passes it back to Daniel, who fills it up again quietly. "It will be okay, I promise."

"You didn't see him. I've seen a lot of - I've seen, we've both. But not like this. Never like this. It was just so fucked up. I need - I need." She takes a deep breath, shudders. "I need to sit down." Sam glances at Daniel, who meets his gaze for a brief second before turning away.

()

Christy calls him while Daniel's on his knees and Sam has his hand buried in his hair. Daniel gives him a questioning look and Sam mouths, "Sorry, later," which gets him a shrug and a soft "You don't know what you just missed out on" Look. But Sam's pretty sure he does, only it's Christy. "Hey, dollface," he says, when he's certain his voice doesn't sound like lust. "How are you?"

"I'm good. Really good. Working, you know. You?" Christy's voice always makes him want to propose to her all over again, as if just her being warm and soft could erase the past and they'd start anew, all histories buried in stone.

"Same, always the same."

"That's good. I'm glad. Listen, Sam. I um," she hesitates for a brief second, and he pictures her biting her lip like she always does when she's uncertain. "I got an - there's an exhibition. Some photos of mine. I'd like you to come to the opening. You don't have to, I don't-"

"I'll be there," he says immediately. "It's good to hear your voice, Chris."

"Yours too, Sam. I miss you."

"Yeah."

"My ex-wife," he tells Daniel, whose lips quirk up in startled surprise. "What, didn't think anyone would marry someone like me?"

"No," Daniel replies, and sinks back down onto his knees. "Just didn't think you were the marrying kind."

"I was always the marrying kind, I just never found someone - I just never found the right someone to stay married to." He wants to say something else, but Daniel's eyes are already closing, and when his tongue touches Sam's dick Sam forgets he wants to say anything at all.

()

"So what do you think?"

"It's very. Lovely." is the only word he can think of that fits.

"Quite," she says, and fuck but she's still so fucking beautiful. He's picking up Daniel up in an hour though, he had to go for a medical and then they're going to go to the movies, like a pair of love struck teenagers. Or perhaps they'll just end up fucking somewhere close by, as is what usually happens on nights like these. Sam turns to look at the photographs instead, and like the woman, they still take his breath away.

"What if I'd told you I was a CIA agent instead? A spy, or undercover FBI. Interpol, perhaps."

"It was never what you did, Sam. It was always what it made you. All of," she raises her glass at the photo, exquisite pain caught permanently on film. "This. I thought I could handle the truth. But it was never what I wanted. I guess I just liked the idea of violence rather than the truth of it. That makes me a bad person, right?"

"You could never be a bad person, Chris." He kisses her on the cheek, whispers congratulations and says, "I have to go. I have someone waiting."

Not his world, not as hard as he'd tried. Too many years and he's too set in his ways and incapable, in the end, of any sort of change. Regular job and regular paycheck and a regular life, business dinners with people who'd never killed anyone or were willing to walk around without packing or who'd never given a blowjob for money before. "Too fucking late, all of it," and he heads out into the night, towards Daniel.

()

When he drives up to the clinic, Daniel's waiting outside, chatting with some guy in medical scrubs. He waves when he spots Sam, and the Doctor - Nurse, perhaps, narrows his eyes. Sam feels a flush of something that might be shame; this must look like, exactly what it seems. The guy scribbles something down on a name card and passes it to Daniel before disappearing back into the building. "Who's that," Sam asks, after Daniel buckles himself into the car.

"Nurse," Daniel says. "Just some guy." He shrugs with the dismissive air of every teenager ever uninterested in anything beyond himself.

"What did he pass to you?" Daniel doesn't have to tell him, but Sam asks anyway.

"Just his personal number, in case I, uh. Some of the kids, they get roughed up. A couple of the nurses give out their cell, in case they're off duty when." He shrugs again, says, "I didn't ask for it, I will never need it." He keeps the card though, slips it into the lining of his jacket pocket.

"So, uh. Did you get a clean bill of health?"

"Of course. It's only perfunctory. Carlotta insists. Every three months."

Sam laughs and drives the car out of the parking lot. "Yeah, you have to love her and her new-found respect for the simple things like keeping herself, and others, healthy and free from disease."

"She wasn't always like this?" Daniel asks curiously.

"No, she was." Carlotta the borderline street whore with the tattered fishnet stockings and the dramatic make-up and track marks constantly marring her otherwise lovely skin, but they were both pretty rough around the edges back then. "She's always been a force of nature," Sam says finally. "So, movie?"

Daniel grins.

()

She was sitting at a diner eating a sandwich, lips swollen and half her face hidden under huge sunglasses. Sam sat across from her and gently removed the shades from her face. She only winced and swore softly under her breath. "Son of a bitch," Sam said. "John?"

"No, you know I'm not directly involved in that anymore. B - Beckett. The pimp that runs boys down Presidio? He claims I'm encroaching on his territory. As if I want the type of johns that he gets; permission to fuck his kids up, I don't think so, I would not."

"Where is he," Sam asked quietly.

Carlotta shook her head. "No, this isn't your damage. I'll take care of it." She reached across the table and grabbed his hand. Hers felt surprisingly small in his; he lifted it to his lips and kissed the pale, delicate skin on her palm. She smiled, and almost blushed. But neither one of them were capable of an honest-to-goodness blush nowadays.

"It's your problem, it's mine." Sam always felt he owed Carlotta, and he loved her all the more for rarely taking advantage of the fact that he would pretty much do anything, no questions asked, if only she wanted it.

"Don't - you don't. I'll do him myself. Especially if the bastard leaves a scar." She bared her teeth, and Sam believed her.

He said though, firmly and with that tone in his voice that they both knew expected no arguments, "I wouldn't put that burden on you. Tell me where he is."

Carlotta insisted on following him though. Leaned against a wall of the alleyway watching him like some fashion forward bird of prey, face expressionless, after she'd led Beckett out of the club with some excuse or another, Sam was never sure what she'd said to him, but his eyes were bright and he'd had his arm around her waist.

It was over quickly enough, it always was.

-

After being blessed by the herb's essence
I'm back to my rest, ten minutes some odd seconds
That's where I got the honey at, spends the night for sexing
Cheap lubrication, Lifestyle protection

-

"Carly."

"She's not here."

"Are we seriously going to play this game again?"

The receptionist shakes her head no. "She really isn't here, Mr. - Detective Banks. I would let you in if she was."

Paul stares at her until he believes it's true, then shrugs. "Fine, she's not here. Get me someone else. No, I don't care who. You? No? I doubt you're any good in any case." He drums his fingers on the reception desk as the girl makes an almost frantic phone call, to someone named Monique, until the door opens behind him. Dark haired. Blue-eyed. Nice rack. He'll take it. "Thanks," he says to receptionist, whose name he now recalls is Vicky. "You have the key to Carly's room?" She hands him the key silently, and he winks at her. "Later, Vicky."

Monique rides him like the pro that she is, pretends she's having a good time even though he tells her explicitly not to. Paul thinks she's a bit afraid to be in Carlotta's room, but as he tells her winningly, "That's the best part." It's not enough to make his fucking headache go away though, not even when she jerks him off with practiced ease later until he almost sees stars when he comes, pleasure racking his body in waves. "Fuck," he says finally, and clutches at his head.

"You okay? Need an aspirin or something?"

"No," Paul says. "What I need is a fucking drink. Can you get me that, Monique?"

"Sure. Whatever you say, darling. Whatever you want."

But he leaves before she comes back, throws a hurried tip on the table and waves with forced cheerfulness at Vicky as he goes out the door.

()

It was three years crawling through the dirt looking for his next fix before he finally gave up the ghost, checked into rehab. Department dollar, every other cop had a habit of some kind or another, therapy for the amount of time spent under duress and extreme stress, especially undercover. Fast ticket to Detective, sure, but no one told him that he'd wake up with a needle in his arm every other night.

Carlotta liked to call him a pussy, but she was the one tapping his vein most of the time. They'd fuck even though he never liked her all that much to begin with, because Carlotta always skated on the edge of a morality he found himself losing faith in day after day. He'd go down on her on dirty sheets in the late afternoon when all the johns were out working or playing golf or grocery shopping or whatever the fuck they did, slide his tongue deep into her cunt while she shimmied underneath and half-heartedly called him names. He would make her come, over and over, but that might've been the drugs rather than him.

He missed that though, sometimes. Blowjobs and hand jobs or smack or E or whatever the fuck he could get from random whores in exchange for tip-offs or so he wouldn't haul them in, and it was always so easy, just floating through it all, day after day after day.

"It just got difficult," he tells his CO appointed therapist seriously, because he finally got tired of being a fat, bloated alkie with no prospects and a high possibility of washing out or ending up dead by the time he hit thirty-five. Shiny new stripes and a shiny new department, all his if only he kept clean.

"And now?"

"I keep telling myself it's a drink or a fix that I want. Cocaine, that was my drug of choice. But that's not it. I'm not an alcoholic and I'm not a junkie."

"Then what are you?" She crosses her legs, and they really shouldn't have given him a female therapist, at least not one with such wicked thighs.

"I just needed to see how far I could fall."

"And now?"

Paul opens his hands in a display of wide-open possibilities. "Now I'm here. Would you like to have dinner with me sometime?"

"No. Now you're here?"

"Now I'm here. Working on it. How about lunch then?"

"It's against regulations. And besides, you're not my type." She's smiling though, and he's glad that she has a smile to match her legs.

"What if I weren't your patient anymore? Would that be okay?"

"I couldn't - but yes. Yes."

All he really wants is another fix.

()

Paul fumbles for his cell, mostly to shut the damned thing up, but he puts it to his ear instinctively instead. "Rise and shine, pretty boy," Homme's lazy drawl is always far more irritating when he's not had enough to sleep. "We've got another one."

"What? Fuck."

()

Paul barely blinks when he finds himself wading through the sewer in galoshes and has to swerve to avoid what looks like floating turd. He wavers though, when he reaches the scene proper. Blood on the walls mixed in with grime and waste, he has to swallow bile rising thick and angry in his throat to ask Homme, "Break it down for me."

"Residents on a street downtown complained that their toilets were backing up. Workers came down to see what got stuck, turned out it was the torso of some kid. Same MO as the previous one, more or less. At least that's what the lab monkey says."

The aforementioned forensics guy shoots Homme a glare before trotting off to put a wayward shoe in an evidence bag. "Nice guy," Paul tells Homme conversationally, and Homme grimaces.

"He's just pissed because I came in from getting my dick sucked and he came in from playing World of Warcraft or whatever it is they do. That, plus in case you haven't noticed, we're hip deep in shit. Good thing you didn't wear that nice suit your girlfriend bought you."

"Think it's another one of hers?" Paul bends down peer at a pale, crucified arm; No tattoo, but the fingernails are perfectly manicured and groomed. "Expensive, even if he's not."

"Don't know. We'll bring her in. Shake her up, maybe she's not telling us something."

"I'm sure she'll enjoy that."

Homme scrapes his boots across the ground and scowls. "Fucking shit. Fucking people that shit. Just try not to piss her off too badly this time, Banks. I don't need to watch your foreplay."

"I'll do my best." He looks around, searches for something to wipe off the blood that somehow managed to get on his hand, but it's all only dank waste and grime and filth. "Alleyways and sewers," he mutters. And some people think that there's a difference between the whores that hustle the streets nightly for ten bucks a blowjob and the ones that suck dick once a week for a thousand.

()

"You look terrible, Carly." Wrecked, is the word he doesn't use. But she doesn't snipe back, just looks at the photo and shakes her head mutely.

"His name is Conor. Conor Oberst. He was just a baby. Been with me for a month, maybe two I have to check my books. He-" She puts her head in her hands, and Paul looks at Homme, who shrugs and makes a cutting motion across his throat with his hand.

"You're free to go," Paul says, and the room reverberates with the sound of the chair screeching backwards as Carlotta rises to get the fuck out of there.

When she's gone, he opens his mouth to make an excuse to Homme, but Homme only waves him away impatiently, "I wasn't born yesterday, Banks."

Carlotta's standing on the stairs in front of the station, smoking a cigarette. Paul says, "You waiting for a cab?" and she shakes her head.

"Take me home."

"Yeah, okay."

He drives, but eventually he says, "My place is nearer. We could go there instead."

Carlotta only closes her eyes. She opens them when he drives up to his house and parks the car, looks around in surprise. "You moved?"

"Yeah, I got tired of the city. Too much shit went down. Besides, I heard this is where all the action's at."

"What about that pretty girl of yours? What was her name, Abigail?"

"Abbey. She left me." Paul presses the base of his palm to his forehead, suddenly tired and worn out. "Said she was tired of waiting for me to clean up my act."

"Oh, I can't imagine why. You being such a stellar boyfriend and all. I'm surprised it didn't happen sooner. The woman had the patience of a saint, if you ask me."

"Must you always be such a bitch."

"I'm not certain. Must you always be an asshole." She doesn't wait for him to respond, jerks the car door open instead and makes her way up the driveway, high heels skillfully navigating the graveled path. "Nice neighborhood," she says, when he finally reaches the door and opens it for them both, but as usual, she doesn't seem impressed. Not that he particularly cares.

"It's allright. I might move again. I miss the noise sometimes."

"Everyone does."

"I have to go back."

"Now?"

"No, not now. Now I-" But she's already reaching for him, her hands tugging at his coat, his shirt-tails, his belt. He pushes her back near the wall and slides her dress over her head. Naked save for stockings and heels and those pearls she claims are family heirlooms depending on how decadent or not she's feeling that day, she's still teetering on the edge of being too thin, but her skin is pale and luminescent and her arms are free of tracks. "Carly," he says, but he doesn't get any further before she slides to her knees. He doesn't touch her at all when she blows him, puts his palms flat on the wall behind her and concentrates on regulating his breathing so he doesn't come too fast. But her thumb is on the inside of his thigh, sliding back and forth, seemingly aimless but she's well aware of what she does, and finally he says, "Stop, wait," and drags her to her feet.

"Paul," she says lazily, and the smile on her red and bruised lips is a secret sneer, a challenge and a promise all in one. "Come on." Paul follows the line of her waist with his hand, down to the back of her knee so he can pull her leg around him. Watches himself slide into her, fast at first, but her breath hitches and he slows down, tiny incremental movements that take pretty much all of his willpower to control, her fists are bunched against his shirt now - "Paul, I want, I need."

"Say please."

"Fuck you." But her head falls down onto the curve of his neck and she wraps her arms around his shoulders, and Paul can't think anymore, shoves the rest of the way in hard until she's gasping and he's moaning and then she's coming and he's following suit, fast as a fucking freight train. He collapses finally, lets himself fall boneless to the floor and drags her down with him, sticky and heady and on this side of being sated.

"You can stay," he says afterwards, as he picks up his gun and badge again and slides them into their respective places. "I might not be back for a while. There's food in the fridge, but you can order take-out if you want."

"I have to go back to work too, Banks. I'll take a cab, don't bother."

"It's not that. Carly," Paul says. "You might want to keep turning your boys out for a while. In-call only, if you have to. My gut tells me this isn't going to end soon."

"It'll end if you do your job and catch the motherfucker, Banks." She busies herself readjusting her clothes, but finally continues, "I'll take your advice under consideration."

"You do that." He reaches out to tuck a stray hair back behind her ear and says, "Extra key's in the drawer by the hall. Make sure you lock up behind you."

()

"My two most hated words in the dictionary, would you like me to tell you what they are?"

Paul opens his mouth, but shuts it again when Tancretti answers his own question. "Serial. and Killer. Now, a couple of rent boys, high priced or not, get murdered, the press they don't care, not yet. I would like to keep it that way. You understand? Banks, do you understand."

Homme says instead, "Sure, we get it, boss," and Paul nods his head in assent. Tancretti doesn't like Paul, not in the least, but then again there are few people that Tancretti likes, so Paul doesn't take it personally.

"Now are we certain it's the same guy?"

"ME says the MO is the same, yeah."

"Brilliant. I want this case cleared, before he does this again and they start giving him a name. I do not want them to give him a name."

Again. Paul hasn't even thought about the possibility that this might go on if they don't finger the perp anytime soon. Pictures an endless future filled with dead teenaged boys with their bodies mangled and torn up. "We'll do our best," he only says, and Tancretti dismisses them with a wave of his massive hand.

-

And I hang my boots to rest when I'm impressed
So I triple knot them and forgot them
This origami dream is beautiful
but man those wings will never leave the ground

-

Daniel's staring at a picture on his wall when Sam comes into the living room. Gunpowder and blood, he bathed before he showed himself because he didn't want Daniel to see. Not that he would judge, but recently, Sam likes to pretend. "She's pretty," he says softly.

"That's my mother."

"You have her eyes. Where is she?"

Dead, is the usual answer that he gives. But he opens his mouth and says instead, "In a private care facility. When I was fourteen a junkie looking for a fix broke into our apartment. We didn't have much to take, so he bashed her head in with a pipe instead. She's been catatonic ever since."

"Oh," Daniel says. "Were you there? When that happened?"

"No. I was out getting wasted somewhere. Or fucking a girl. Or both. Or beating the crap out of someone just like he did my mother."

"Everything comes full circle, right?"

"Always." On his knees, Daniel pressed up against the wall and not touching him at all except for feather light brushes across his skin that burn and flay, and when Daniel leads him upstairs afterwards and Sam fucks him it's almost as if they connect.

()

"Who are you," Sam says, and it's mostly to himself as he trails his fingers down Daniel's chest. Late mornings in bed are his favorite when he doesn't have any work for the rest of the day.

"Does it matter?"

"Doesn't it?" And it strikes Sam, suddenly, that Daniel's more or less moved in, or at least they haven't spent a night apart so far. Although Daniel's careful not to leave any imprint of himself behind, he could disappear tomorrow and there'd probably be no evidence that he was ever there at all. "I keep forgetting. You're getting paid to be here." And it's out there, what they don't talk about, or just the surface of what they don't talk about. But this is the easy part, lying to each other that their relationship is about the sticky aspect of a john and his trick, pretending that what they're doing is just sex. But they're both lying for different reasons. Sam says, "Did you know, I wanted to be a musician when I was growing up?"

"I never wanted to be anything when I grew up," Daniel replies, his voice suddenly blank and dull, and Sam feels him slipping away. He snaps back though, smiles softly, and when he kisses Sam it's almost unbearably sweet and almost unbearably painful. "I didn't think it would be like this," he whispers, and Sam pretends that he doesn't hear him.

()

Two decades in the business and Sam's not forgotten a name yet. He thinks perhaps someday he will, that they all will blur together and he'll just be left with vague imprints of people whose lives he knows he destroyed or took but can't recall the specifics of how or why. Sometimes he wishes that that day's already here - those days when he wakes up and looks into the mirror and the man staring back at him is just tired and wanting to rest, but some days their faces keep him going, a constant reminder of who and what he is. Sharper than any bullet, and Sam's aware that most people make excuses for who they are or the actions that they take in order to just get through living, but for Sam it's the admitting that makes it easier; he doesn't want forgiveness at this point, or absolution, but only perhaps some sort of closure.

Daniel leans in the doorway of the bathroom and silently watches him stare at his own reflection. "I'm just getting ready to shave. I'll be done soon."

But instead of going Daniel comes in and takes the blade and the shaving cream from him. He climbs onto the washbasin counter and pulls Sam in between his knees. Sam shivers when he brushes the cream onto his cheeks and chin, and Daniel says, "You're the first guy I've met that still uses the blade."

"What can I say, I'm old fashioned like that. Try not to cut me, kid." But his voice is hoarse and he can barely get the words out. The edge of the sharp, sharp blade is pressed, momentarily, to his jugular, and Sam stops breathing, but then Daniel just slides it down, smooth, along his throat. "You're good at this."

"I'm good at a lot of things," Daniel says, and his eyes are dark and filled with secrets that Sam can't even hope to touch.

-

there, in the spine of the dictionary the words are worthless
they are a mere weight pressing against my thoughtlessness
but then, who else can speak of thoughtlessness with such confidence
who else has learned to sling these ancient ideas
like dead rats held by their tails
so as not to infect this newly oiled skin

-

Going through the list of volunteers and employees at Joy's Halfway house throws up a name. Jesse Lacey, RN. Volunteered for two months before being dismissed. "Complaint against him was never followed through because the kid that made the complaint claimed afterwards he'd made it all up, and Lacey dropped off the grid after that. Got the name of the employee that brought the kid in. She still works there."

Greta Sanchez says, "Yeah I remember Jesse. Sweet kid. A bit strange though."

"I'd say trying to strangle a twelve year old would be considered a bit strange too," Homme says.

"We're overworked and underpaid here, in case you hadn't noticed. Jesse was so good with the kids. Said he used to volunteer at a free clinic at one point, so he knew all about the hell some of them go through. I probably wouldn't have believed Tommy, but the odd thing is, Jesse didn't even deny it. Said I would be grateful someday for his work."

"This Tommy, you know where he is now?"

"No." She shrugs and turns away from them both. "He disappeared about a month after Jesse did. They do that a lot."

()

No-one answers when they knock on Jesse Lacey's apartment door. "Nice of him to register to vote and leave an address," Homme says.

Paul tries knocking again, but again there's no response. "Guess no-one's home. Think we could get a warrant?"

"Hey, you guys looking for Jesse?" The next door neighbor is an old man who glares suspiciously at them both, and his next question is, "You're cops right? You look like cops."

"Detective Homme, my partner Detective Banks. Do you have any idea where Mr. Lacey is?"

"No, but I can tell you he ain't been here in a couple of days. Usually when he's here there are these boys coming in and out at all hours of the night. It's filthy, is what it is. Back in my day there weren't no such thing, it just weren't allowed."

Paul holds up the photos of Wentz and Oberst. "Think maybe you'd recognize one of these kids as one of those kids that visited?"

The neighbor squints and points to the photo of Wentz. "That boy, yeah. He been here. Disgusting, these little-"

"Thank you for your help, sir," Paul says, and hands him a card. "You think of anything else, or if Mr. Lacey decides to come back home, please don't hesitate to give us a call."

The warrant they get for the apartment doesn't throw up much, until Homme goes through Lacey's mail. "Hey," he says, "guess who's receiving thank you gift cards for volunteering at Silver Cross Free Clinic?"

()

Jesse Lacey, according to the nurse at the Silver Cross Free Clinic, is off today. "Try tomorrow," she mutters, shakes her head no when Homme flashes her the pictures. "We get a lot of kids here. And no, don't ask me for their records either. Privileged information. Besides, none of them ever give their real names. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a lot of work to do."

They're walking out when they bump into Gerard Way, smoking a cigarette and on his way in. His eyes widen when he sees them both, but he only grits his teeth and says, overly polite, "Detectives. What brings you here?"

"You didn't tell us that Wentz was a patient here, Gerard. Care to tell us why?"

Gerard shrugs. "You didn't ask. Besides, I assumed you know, this is where my brother met Pete in the first place. In any case, it's-"

"Privileged, yeah yeah we got that already." Paul glances at Homme, and Homme nods his head almost imperceptibly. "Do you happen to know where Jesse Lacey is, Gerard?"

"Jesse? What, you want to accuse him of murdering now? No, I don't know where Jesse is. You can take me in if you want. I'm not lying."

Homme shrugs. "That won't be necessary, I'm sure. If you do see him though, be sure to tell him we need to speak with him. You have our card, right?"

()

Daniel's sleepy and bed headed, walking into the living room in Sam's pajama pants that are slightly too loose on him. It's mid-afternoon, but they had a late night, so Sam let him sleep in. Daniel doesn't sleep often or restfully, is what Sam's come to realize, observes because he himself doesn't sleep more than three hours a night, a habit he picked up at first out of necessity and now simply because he can't. Sleeping means being exposed on more than one level, and Daniel sleeps, when he sleeps, curled up and defensive, body language practically screaming Do Not Touch. Sam does, once, slides his hand down the curve of his spine, but it's no comfort when Daniel shivers and calls Sam's name out softly, not that Sam thought it would be. "Where are you going," he asks, blinking rapidly and half-turning, because Sam cooked breakfast and the scent of the eggs are still high in the air.

"It's Saturday. I am going to visit my mother." He hesitates, then asks casually, "Would you like to come with me? After breakfast. I made you an omelet and oatmeal, just the way you like it."

For a split-second Daniel looks distressed, but then his features even out, glassy smooth once more. His voice is hoarse though, when he says, "Yes, okay." Sam finds the smile breaking across his face unconsciously, but it fades away when Daniel puts a hand on his cheek. "I wish," he says, "I wish."

"You wish?"

"Nothing."

"Everyone does what they have to do, Daniel," and Daniel's head snaps up and Sam almost breaks at the expression on his face, but instead he only turns his face into Daniel's palm and kisses it, and they're both trembling at this point and Sam thinks of regret as the impossibility of changing the past once you realize that you can't live with its consequences, but he'd always thought until now that living meant surviving, if only just.

()

Carlotta gives him access to everything - detailed records of clientele and videotapes and all of her girls and boys. Paul eats canned chicken and drinks coke as she sleeps, it's almost dawn and the only thing he has so far is that Carlotta could probably bring down half the city if she wanted to. He scrolls down yet another list of names, then back up again, pauses at one but his cell rings before he can process the thought. "Banks."

"Hey. So while you're off fucking your whore girlfriend, I've been working. Managed to get the Silver Cross to give me the patient list for the nights Lacey was on duty. Not that the records are any good, she was right about the fake names, but I filtered out anyone that wasn't male and under twenty and found -"

"Oberst was at the clinic the day he died. Wentz, two days before he showed up dead."

"You take the fun out of everything, Banks. A couple of other kids too, not your girl's, just regular street whores, couldn't say if they were missing or not."

"Sorry to disappoint you. I have three names here, though. Last person to visit when Lacey was on duty was." He stops, turns. "Carly, hey."

"What, Banks," she says without opening her eyes. "I'm sleeping you can fuck someone else if you're that desperate for it."

"Carly," Paul repeats patiently. "Carly. You have a boy. Daniel Kessler. Been here three months, according to your records."

"Yeah, what about him?" She's awake, finally, blinking rapidly and yawning. "I haven't seen him in days, since I set him up with someone. Possibly he quit, I'm not sure."

"Set him up with-never mind, just tell me who."

But she's thinning her lips resolutely, and Paul knows that expression. "Carly," he says, and he's never been more serious in his life. "Trust me. For once."

-

Close your mind
close your eyes
see with your heart
how do you forgive the murderer of your father?
the ink of a scholar is worth a thousand times more than the blood of a martyr

-

He kisses Daniel goodbye, drops him off at a twenty-four hour video store because he insists that he needs to rent at least a dozen movies to watch "since you're going to be away for the entire weekend", not accusingly, but Sam somehow feels guilty nonetheless, for leaving him alone like that, but he isn't about to send him back to Carlotta's, not just yet anyway. Not until this job, and he comes back, and then perhaps he will let go. But something's wrong, and if he hadn't been so self-involved recently he might have noticed earlier. The prickly sensation of being watched, and followed. And normally Sam would assume it'd be him being surveyed, it's happened often enough, but this time. He twists the steering wheel hard to the right, spins the car around to horns and obscenities yelled irately in his direction. Two minutes and he's pulling up in front of the video store. Daniel's not inside, of course not. "Have you seen this boy? Suit and tie, would've come in here maybe ten minutes ago."

The video clerk says, "Yeah...I think so, maybe. Weird little dude, right? You just missed him, someone came and they left together."

"Thanks," Sam says. "Thanks." Out the front door, and there's an alley just around the corner. Sam runs, and "Please, don't," is the first thing that he hears when he's close enough, and the boy, he's just a kid, much like Daniel. Even with his fingers around Daniel's throat and Daniel gasping and grabbing fruitlessly with his fingers.

Sam says, "Hey," and wraps one arm around his neck. Right beneath his jaw, and Sam's other hand makes a chokehold and he tugs, and the boy staggers back. It would be so easy, and usually at this point this is exactly what he does. A twist, and the neck snaps under him. He's halfway there, braces himself, but Daniel, he's holding his throat and staggering, but he still shakes his head no. No, please... Please. So Sam tightens his hold instead, until the kid passes out.

()

Jesse Lacey just turned twenty-six last week. Happy birthday, baby. "So he lays low for a while, then comes back and volunteers at a clinic. Everything's fine until the kid Wentz shows up, graduated from runaway to high priced rent boy. Maybe he recognized Lacey from the halfway house, or maybe not, but Lacey sees him and what. Snaps?"

"Probably. Gotta ask Lacey that, right?"

"Right." Paul flips through the report again. "Read this shit. Grew up in the system himself, abused by family after family, almost institutionalized for setting fire to one family's dog. Borderline genius IQ, but mental. Got his GED at some point, then nursing school. How the fuck did he manage to volunteer at not one, but two institutions dealing with mostly troubled kids?"

"Banks," Homme cuts in impatiently. "Stop fucking talking already. The system is failing. The system is always fucking failing. Jesus you'd think you'd crawled out of your mother's snatch yesterday or something, with your righteous indignation and shit."

"I just wished we hadn't shown up after we could've done anything to help."

"What are we, the fucking Cavalry?"

"Why yes, I do believe that's what it says on our badges."

"Be grateful someone did our job for us, for once."

Samuel Fogarino. They got the call while on the way to his home, report of an attempted murder in a back alley. Suspect apprehended by civilian, awaiting black-and-blues to arrive. He looks familiar, and Paul takes a moment before he can place him. "Right." Jesse Lacey, when Paul arrived uniforms were leading him off in handcuffs, he looks beat down and harmless, but Fogarino, he's all hazard, slick and contained in a three thousand dollar suit. He doesn't seem grateful so much as resigned, and Paul considers, briefly, arresting him for soliciting or child abuse or something, but it's been a long enough day as it is. So he just says, "Thank you, for your help. Sir. You can come down to the station any time tomorrow to give us your statement. Just to tie up a few loose ends, you understand."

"Of course," and his smile contains as much loathing and disdain towards Paul as Paul feels for him. Fair enough. "Send my regards to Carlotta."

"I will. She sends her love, to you and young Mr. Kessler both."

()

"Who gives a fuck why, Banks? He's psychotic, you cleared the case, everyone goes home happy." They hadn't had to do shit, two minutes in the box and Lacey was scribbling away on the pad. Confession, murder weapon, everything tied up in a neat little bow for the DA to deliver. Unless of course he got a lawyer who would declare him insane and send him off to an institution instead.

"I want to know why."

"Oh fucking hell," Homme says.

"Hello again, Mr. Lacey." Paul offers him a cigarette before he sits down, but Lacey shakes his head no.

"I thought we were finished, Detective Banks. And Detective Homme. But if you have any more questions I am always willing to help." His smile is open and friendly, and Paul figures, if he weren't a sociopath, people might think he was cute. Charming, even.

"You said, in your confession, that you wanted to save them. From their wretched lives, from growing up to be lost, just like you."

"Bringing them home. I brought them home."

"See yeah, I got all that. What I don't get is, why open them up like that. Why the wrists. That's what I don't understand."

"No," Lacey says. "I loved them. I tried to save them, but they wouldn't listen. I think I did, in the end," he continues dreamily.

"Sick fuck," and that's Homme, muttering under his breath, and he'll stick around because Paul's here, but only for that.

"You should've have let me rescue Daniel," Lacey continues as if Homme didn't exist at all. His eyes are bright and utterly focused on Paul. "He's the most wounded of them all. It would have saved you from grief some day in the near future, I'm certain. I'll take that cigarette now, by the way."

()

Back home Daniel is silent and subdued, arms tight around his body as he curls up on the couch. "Are you sure you're allright?" Sam asks more than once, but Daniel only hunches further into himself. "You get used to it, you know," he says at one point, because he can't stand the silence.

"What?"

"People trying to kill you. Almost dying." He tries for a smile, but it's wan and finally he gives himself a failing grade and gives up. "I'll get you some hot tea. It'll help to soothe your throat. Since you refuse to let me bring you to a hospital to get you checked out-"

"I've had enough of nurses and doctors for one night, thanks," and he sounds lost and hopeless, but at least it's something. Sam puts the cup down on the table and sits down, but doesn't reach for him. Waits, until he says, "You saved my life. I wish you hadn't - I wish. You don't even know who I am."

"Daniel Alexander Kessler. Only child of Andrea and Thomas Kessler, both deceased. Shot execution style three years ago. The killer, or killers, were never caught. Of course I know who you are."

"Oh," Daniel says, and he crumbles. "Oh."

Sam's never noticed how silent his house is. On a hill, away from most of humanity, he'd chosen it mainly for its strategic location. Ability to see enemies coming from all sides. Not including the ones he lets in the front door. "Your tea's getting cold," he says. "You should drink up."

"How long have you known?"

"A while." At Daniel's pained expression he says, and it comes out almost apologetic, "It's what I do."

"Then why?"

"I don't know."

The gun, Sam's not sure where Daniel's hidden it all this time; it's small and silver, ladies' gun, or the gun of a young man wanting justice. He points it at Sam, and his face is pale but his hands, they don't tremble at all. Smart boy, and Sam's mostly proud, although he doesn't seem to realize that Sam's close enough to grab it easily from him if he wanted to. Or perhaps he does. "I waited three years for this. Every single day." He pauses, and shakes. "It was supposed to be easy. It's supposed to be-"

"Kid," Sam says. "It never is."

-end-