"Ow!" Badou shouted, as Heine slammed him against a wall cheek-first. A spray of bullets rammed into the space where they had been standing seconds earlier; Heine ducked, shoving Badou's head down, and they simultaneously hissed in irritation. "I like my teeth, you know," Badou grumbled, as Heine arched his arm over the edge of the wall and fired ten, fifteen shots. "It isn't as much fun to smoke without them. I mean I've lost an eye already, is it too much to ask for some teeth?"
Heine reloaded both his pistols, elbowing Badou in a way that plainly meant he should do the same. "Save that shit for later," Heine said, adrenaline contorting his mouth into a nasty grin. "If you can make it."
So he said, but surprisingly it was Badou who found himself dragging Heine's ass back to church, one hand tucked into his jeans and the other clutching the collar of Heine's jacket, pulling him with little regard for how bad he got scraped, because he was freaking tired, too, and bruised in at least twelve places (his cheek being one of them, Heine was such a goddamn bastard). That was okay; the bruises didn't hurt much if they weren't poked, but Heine looked like shit. Sure enough, Nill burst into tears when she saw him. That the tears were silent only made them more upsetting.
The bishop merely clucked his tongue and said, "Give him another hour, maybe half, and he'll be spouting poison again. Crazy idiot is always like this." Still, he was uncharacteristically gentle as he eased Heine onto an altar (spare one?) and picked off what was left of his shirt. This time was pretty bad. If Heine was out cold, that meant it was bad.
Badou lit up and leaned against a pillar to keep watch. He alternated between inspecting his blood-caked fingernails, and watching the way Heine jerked whenever the bishop yanked a bullet out of him. It seemed theory number two – that Heine had no nerve endings – wasn't the right one. And didn't he twitch that time Badou accidently shot him in the heel? Nill kept a respectful or maybe frightened distance, poring over one of her sewing books and staring with despair at the tatters of Heine's vest.
It seemed a long time before Heine finally groaned and sat up. Badou had gone through four cigarettes and was already contemplating whether he had better go take a bath. Of course the first thing Heine said was "Fuck," and then, as if that wasn't enough, he had to stare at the handful of bullets the priest had managed to gather in a little dish. With emphasis, "Fuck," and then he rubbed his head and lay down again.
"Hey, watch your language, there's a little girl present," the bishop murmured, but Badou caught the sigh of relief that escaped his lips. He thought about that a little, while Nill blustered forward and clutched Heine's hand. He smiled at her, roughly gentle, which was the only way he knew how to be. Badou massaged his chin, took a drag from his fifth cigarette, and lumbered away to pee.
They never listened to each other, that was part of the problem. Badou suspected it had something to do with the fact that their eardrums were probably damaged from the torrent of explosions they faced most days, but even when it was quiet, conversations with Heine usually went in one ear, out the other. He had no concentration whatsoever. Sure, Badou was guilty of spacing out once in a while, especially when deprived of a good smoke, but when you told him to listen he would. Not that people liked sharing stories with him, if they could help it. He made a living off information, after all.
Talking with Heine, those rare moments, was eerily like déjà vu. One of these days he kept expecting to wake up, or realize that he was some past self in an alternate future, something whacked out like that – because he was pretty damned sure they'd already gone through this.
"Did your brother smoke as much as you did?"
"Hated it." The memory sort of jarred him, now, Dave's face blurry in dim light, as he brought out a half-eaten burger from the refrigerator and stuffed it in the microwave. Things like that. Dave would pull off his shirt and lie on the couch and mumble about not having enough cash, because of his damn addiction. Badou would pass his empty packet from hand to hand before throwing it in the trash can. Just for his sake he'd tried mints for a while, gumballs, lollipops, hard candies, those shitty chocolate cigarettes. Yes, Badou thought, despite everything, then he just wouldn't think anymore. It cost too much not to lie these days.
Heine stared at him for a moment, then looked the other way. Up, like he was watching the sky for birds.
Badou thought this was a little creepy, so he said, "You really made a mess yesterday, you know?"
"Don't want your lecture," Heine retorted. Badou nearly thought the conversation was over, but suddenly Heine cut in with, "What about your parents?"
"What about them?"
"I don't remember, man." And frankly, didn't care, because for the longest time his brother had been enough. He raised one of his eyebrows. "Why, what about yours?"
"Never had any," Heine grunted, suddenly too indifferent. He leaned his head against both hands as he stalked out of the room, effectively striking out theory number four, that he had grown up spoiled spectacularly rich in an affluent family, and had gone insane trying to live with destitution.
Theory number three was that he had gotten dumped by some chick, and the pain had screwed him up forever. It would also explain the girl-allergies. Actually, Heine struck him as the kind of guy who had zero interest in romance, but hey, he could be wrong, right? Maybe Heine had a stack of romance novels under his bed, and stuffed his pillow with bad breakup poetry. Maybe on his days off he wandered the streets, sighing longingly at every girl who reminded him of mysterious Miss Heartache. Maybe he kept her picture jammed in his wallet or something. Did Heine have a wallet? Badou had no idea what Heine did with his pay.
"Hey, Nill, does Heine have a wallet?"
He peered over at the pew where she was swinging her legs absentmindedly. She tilted her head at him, then did something with her hands that plainly meant no idea. After all this time Nill was still the only one who could bring out a shred of humanity in Heine, a tenderness so remote and bonecold that it sometimes chilled Badou to watch it. But it wasn't romantic love. It was more like – well, what the fuck did Badou know about love, except that sometimes he'd remember Dave and his half-used pack of cigarettes, and how he had spent hours smoking them, sitting on his brother's empty bed, feeling pretty goddamn alone. It was never because of girls, because he didn't care particularly for girls. Not that he cared particularly for anything (anyone?) It was a stupid thing to do in this city, or these days, or maybe just in general.
Besides if Heine was nursing heartache he seemed more likely to blow shit up than snivel to songs on the radio. Understandable. That was Badou's preference, too.
Of course number one was probably the best explanation. It was always that, whenever someone got screwed around these parts. Rape, murder, drugs, violence. Torture. Illegal operations. The words slid off everyone's heads like raindrops, things you muttered to each other in the bar and couldn't even feel too bad about, because who cared? Those things happened so often they were almost a joke. If it wasn't one thing then it was another. Otherwise it was whatever rumor sounded most fucked up, because then it was most likely to be true.
He didn't return to his old place often. It was too messy, and his brother's papers gathered so much dust he got a cold every time he went. He kept a makeshift office these days – a tiny room above the shop he worked part time, twenty minutes away from Kiri's bar on foot, easy to keep clean, with a bed and a chair and a couple of boxes piled with files. But sometimes even the train ride back to the surface was beyond him, and he'd find himself crashing at the extra room in the church, which doubled as Heine's sickroom and more closet space for the bishop's impressive costume collection. He kept a jar of his money there, too. The rainy day cigarette fund. Not that cigarettes lit easy on rainy days. He liked to save them when he could.
Heine, who was nursing some fractured ribs ("It'll heal, but – give it some time," he went, when Nill wrinkled her mouth at him, trying not to cry), watched with mild interest as Badou counted out his current savings, stacking the coins into neat piles.
"You're pretty careful with your money, huh?"
"If you've ever lived with someone irresponsible, you'd be like this too."
For a long time Heine was just quiet, and Badou figured he'd let the conversation disappear into nothing, the way it usually did.
Then, so suddenly that Badou knocked over one of his coin-pillars and had to start over: "How can you live with the memories?"
Heine had this lopsided smile on his face, but something in it made Badou's stomach twist. He watched, feeling sick, as Heine rubbed his neck with one hand.
"I don't have a choice," Badou said at last. "It's different for you. You heal so quickly, you don't scar." Something drew his eye to his hand, and for a moment his vision swam with red. He blinked. The room was dirty gray as always, the oppressive rain on the roof counting out the seconds.
"I wish I did," Heine answered, voice low. Badou shifted his cigarette to the other corner of the mouth. Not much either of them could do about that. Badou didn't like the fact that his back probably looked like a violent game of tic-tac-toe, but he was sure it sucked to be breathing when you plainly didn't want it. He piled the money back into his jar and rolled it beneath the couch warily.
"We try to keep people out, right? I mean some days are easier than others. And Granny Liza tries to keep things under control when – when it's possible." The problem was, reasoning didn't fix anything. Nothing could get fixed, once it had gotten sucked into the Underground; some people were just better at hiding the damage than others. Badou sometimes caught himself thinking he was one of them.
"You really think so?" Heine crossed his legs and put an arm over his eyes. Badou decided it would be stupid to reply.
The following week Granny Liza had another job for them, and despite his best efforts Badou found himself waking up halfway back to the church, Heine's hand grabbing at his shirt where it met his neck. His ass hurt from the dragging. "Hold it, I'm up, I'm up," he grunted. His mouth tasted of blood. Heine paused, then pulled him over to the side of the street, where there was an iron fence they could crouch against for a while. Badou looked with wonder at the torn-up shirt bound over his left calf. No, Heine wouldn't want a comment on that. Where he learned to do it, Badou could only speculate. He felt around in his pocket for a cigarette, urgently, and fished one out at last, only to find that his lighter had somehow gotten smashed in the action.
"Why," he managed, then he could only sit there and stare into the sky, trying to guess the time. He jammed the cigarette into his mouth. The indent it pressed upon his lip soothed him. A little bit.
"Next time, it would help if we both remained conscious, you know? This is starting to become a pain in the ass." Badou looked up at Heine, who was inspecting a scratch on his arm. Badou guessed it was from all the flying concrete – the enemy had had a bazooka this time, and they had both screamed what the fuck in unison as a wall exploded behind them.
"Coming from you, that sounds like a joke." Badou stretched out his arms and stood, slowly. The brief moment of rest had done him good. He could even feel his toes a little now. He took an experimental step, then moved into a stride, ignoring the pang in his lower leg. Someone was probably going to have to stitch that up later. (Upon reflection he realized he'd have to do it himself. Nill was awful with needles, Heine wouldn't bother, and there was no way he was letting the bishop near his leg.) Heine watched him walk impassively for a moment, then fell into step beside him.
People in these parts liked coming up with theories. It was a harmless little hobby to occupy their time as they drifted from day to day, waiting for the next disaster. Mimi didn't know Heine too well, so she would just nod at Badou's descriptions and say, "He's obviously an alien then," or "Maybe he's from the real underworld? Hell?" and Badou would roll his eyes and wonder how the heck she had ever become a PI.
"He's only human," he'd always answer, and it was weird how that sounded like an excuse. Conversations about Heine always ended up like that. Despite everyone's expectations, Badou was no authority, because he didn't know Heine that well either. That he also speculated on what fucked Heine up so badly was probably rude, but nobody could deny that his partner was freaking insane, and most of the time scared the piss out of everyone.
Badou forgot to be scared, these days. Maybe it was the constant exhaustion, or the familiarity – he didn't even know when he'd gotten used to this. They were complete strangers to each other, but they'd crawled down this road together how many times already. Being in this business really ruined you. Made you even think the awfulness was normal, sometimes.
"Hey, move it, I need a smoke or I'm going to have to kill something." Something could mean whatever was close at hand, and that was obviously Heine. Badou crushed the butt of the cigarette against his teeth, desperately fueled by a lack of nicotine. He broke into a stumbling run, decided that he didn't care if he'd have to shove his bone back into his leg later.
In response, Heine gave a huff of laughter. The sound was like a dry bark in the dead air around them, but he quickened his pace, pulling ahead while Badou limped along. There were really days when he thought it was plain old theory number five: that was just the way Heine was, and it didn't even matter.