title: Walking the spiral path
word count: 3565
fandoms: McFassy, Infernal Affairs
pairing: Jamie McAvoy/Michael Fassbender
notes: Holiday gift for clocks. She asked me to write Jamie McAvoy [our genderbent version of James] and Michael Fassbender into a setting reminiscent of cops and robbers and then in the end I asked, what about doing this Mou gaan dou [無間道] style - and she said yes!
Thank you for indulging me, thank you for the amazing prompt, and thank you for the amazing stories and encouragement this year! So happy to be friends.
Typical, Jamie thinks, as she glances in her side-view mirror, changes gears smoothly. She is sliding past cityscapes, sliding into a driveway, and for a moment, she dreams about standing still, at the perfect midpoint between east and west and heaven and earth.
To be between the lowering storm clouds and the blue blue blue sky.
Unseen hands throw the doors of the great house open to her, and her heels pound a smart tattoo into the marble floors.
There’s a servant at her elbow, murmuring deferentially, but she sweeps him up in her path instead. She remembers where to go. She knows what she’s supposed to be doing. She’s been gone from this house for ten long years. That doesn’t matter. It’s part of the pulse in her wrists; it’s in her blood; it’s part of her, as inseparable as her old name and her new one.
It’s just as much hers as the badge and ID in the little leather holder, snug in her pocket where she’s got it in a white-knuckled grip. Hers too like the sidearm riding her hip – nowhere near as familiar or reliable as her own chosen sidearm, her SIG Sauer P226, but she’s being made to use the Glock 19 and she might not like it but she’s already mastered it.
A last set of doors. A deep breath.
The servant steps aside as Jamie shoulders her way in.
The woman at the windows is – not diminished at all. Only greatly changed. Gone is the distinctive braid, and what is left of her hair has silvered entirely. Gone the stiletto heels and the sharp suits – Jamie wears those now, though sometimes she thinks she never wears them as well as the other did. Gone the tendency to sit behind the overdecorated monstrosity of the desk in the corner of the room.
But the years and her condition have broken on Judith McAvoy like waves against rock and she is still here, no less imperious for all that she can no longer stand, and must beckon, ramrod-straight and regal, from her wheelchair.
It feels like coming home at last, after all the years of competing against the rest of the class, the rest of the academy, and Jamie falls to her knees before her mother, heedless of her stockings and her skirt. “You’ve called me, mam, and I’ve come.”
“You took your time,” Judith says, strength rippling in her powerful whisper, like a dagger thrown into still water.
“Perhaps because it takes quite a little longer to find a trinket like this, to bring home to you.” She tosses her badge into her mother’s lap.
Judith picks it up and turns it over carefully. “Detective Inspector Jamie Sullivan,” she says, quietly. “I always wished I could have taken your father’s name, instead of him being made to take mine.”
“I carry it in his memory,” Jamie says, and she bows her head.
There’s a soft weight on her hair. “I used to hate it that you wore your hair so short, and acted like a boy; I did not give birth to you so that I would have a son. But this, this is good,” Judith is saying. “You look so very much unlike me, now, and the secret of your identity is safe within the walls of this house. My dear, you’ve done well – so very well. I am proud of you.”
Jamie looks up at last. A ravaged face. Her eyes dart up to the long scar disappearing into Judith’s hairline, the hands bent with long years of carrying a shotgun and leading men into the ratholes and drug warrens of the city. Eyes that every man in the family has flinched away from – and come to think of it, every woman, too, from the youngest runner to the members of the inner council. Ruler of a vast empire from a fragile throne. The most powerful person in the city. Approval at last.
“I’ll do as you order me, mam. I’m trusted, now, and respectable. People come to me and ask me for help. I have a team backing me up. The higher-ups are watching me, but I remember everything you’ve said. I’ll be careful. I’ll serve. I know who I am.”
“Be sure you do,” Judith says. “And in turn I will continue to watch over you. I know who you’re working with. Play their games as you see fit. Continue down your chosen path.”
Jamie gets to her feet, and clears her throat. “Be sure I will, mam.”
The clouds have swallowed the blue completely when she steps out of the house.
She squares her shoulders, already thinking about the incident report that HQ will require her to write up after this. She’s been living and working by the book for the past ten years; it’s become almost a habit to her, the exact opposite of all of her old habits. A skin she has to wear.
She has to remember it’s only a disguise, and she hopes, fervently, that she won’t slip up.
They’re playing that crappy album of Rolling Stones covers again and Michael rolls his eyes behind his sunglasses. The hangover pounds a searing headache into his skull.
He toys, briefly, with the idea of simply pouring his glass full of tepid water over his head – maybe that will help wake him up – but in the end he bums a cigarette off one of the other enforcers, and he walks out into the muggy afternoon.
Michael has a reputation for going off by himself and no one really minds. So long as he can be reached on his mobile phone, so long as no one’s looking for him, so long as there’s no work that needs doing, the McAvoy boys let him do whatever the fuck he pleases.
Which is a small blessing – smaller than a leaf’s worth of shade in a winter storm, but a blessing is a blessing, and he’s long since learned how to work with that.
Ten years of carousing and conniving and bashing in people’s heads. Ten years of jacking cars and a hellfire combination of drugs and alcohol and adrenaline. The gun riding his hip is a clumsy-dangerous piece of shit, compared to the elegant lines of a Heckler & Koch USP Tactical.
How many times has he woken up to howling emptiness and disappointment? He dreams of waking up, and of being able to go out into the world as his true self, but even that is beginning to blur. Too many late nights. Too many brawls.
Who is he, really, Michael thinks. Not Michael Fassbender, no, not completely. There’s a name he has to answer to. Costigan. Ugly and serviceable, just like he is now, really. Just enough to hide behind.
He reaches for his mobile phone. It’s not the number that the boys have listed; there’s only one name in this phone book.
He risks his life every time he sends a message from this phone, to whoever’s still sitting on the other end of this fucking connection, and he doesn’t quite remember when he passed the point of not caring. Years ago. The day after he’d received the phone. He already puts his life and his sanity and his sense of self at risk with each step, with each passing moment. He could stand to live a little.
Am I ever going to get out of here? He presses Send, recklessly.
He’s not expecting an answer, much less an near-instantaneous one.
I’m sorry. I don’t know. I cannot help you right now. But I am making plans.
In other words, stuck here for the duration, Michael thinks.
He’s not surprised. Just...nothing will ever change. This is what he is now. He puts the phone back in his pocket.
He smokes his cigarette down to the filter. The hangover persists like a black haze in his peripheral vision. He looks up at the forbidding sky. The clouds hang low overhead. Thunder booms in the distance.
It’s too warm for it, but he huddles into his ever-present leather jacket, and slouches back slowly towards the beat-up car, toward the boys and their guns and their knives. His boss, disheveled and wearing that perpetual dead-man’s grin: Kevin McAvoy. A thin, bony hand and a large gold ring, beckoning to him.
Michael squares his shoulders and meets him, meets the boys. Slips into character, the character he’s played for the past ten years.
The rain and the wind lash at her and she growls and shivers and pulls the lapels of her coat close. A short sprint from her car to the building where they’ve been conducting a long, wearying stakeout.
Her team buzzes and works like a well-oiled machine. She’d made a point out of setting high expectations out of them – and then shocked them by holding herself to an even higher standard. It did make for an unexpected kind of motivation, and for some reason, everyone on her team has since flourished in her high-stress, high-stakes orbit.
In a whirl of damp skirts Jamie strides up to her superior officer, who insists that everyone call her Miss Jones. She is sitting calmly at the radio and she has her eyes closed and her head tilted back, one hand held up for silence, and her lips are moving.
Jamie grabs her smartphone, fingers flying over the keys.
What she reads from Miss Jones’s mouth, what she reads when she looks down at the screen, freezes the blood in her veins.
Goods disposed of. Bust incoming. Get rid of the evidence, Costigan, pay fucking attention!
Costigan who? Her mind whirls with the possibilities. Judith’s idea? Kevin’s? A stream of curses in Jamie’s head, and she struggles for outward calm.
All she wants to do now is to charge right into that den and perhaps blow someone’s brains out – perhaps this Costigan person’s – because god, hasn’t she already done enough to make sure there would be nothing to hold the McAvoy gang on? Hasn’t she already fulfilled her side of the bargain?
What were those idiots thinking?
A quiet voice cuts through her thoughts. A well-manicured hand on her wrist.
Jamie looks up, praying her poker face doesn’t slip, and it’s Miss Jones, nodding at her shoulder. “Guns out, come on. Our turn.”
As soon as he’s done scrambling after Kevin’s increasingly frantic orders, as soon as he’s calmed the boys and girls down, Michael retreats to a corner, to one of the windows. Wet mist flying at him from the continued downpour outside. It’s a pisser of a storm out there, and it’s even more electric in here, with lackeys trying to clean up and Kevin ranting up a mess and whatever.
This is bad, Michael thinks, and he imagines himself fading into the background, unseen and unnoticed, hand in his pocket and body angled toward a thin black wire trailing from the window frame into the surrounding buildings. He clicks a message again and again. Dashes and dots. Not a code people automatically recognize these days.
They knew you were coming.
This is a problem.
There is a racket coming up the stairs. Voices shouting, flurry of curses in various languages, and boots on the rickety steps.
Michael switches from the clicker to the gun holstered behind his hip.
Bang goes the door, and a familiar presence storms into the room. An overwhelming impression of white.
If the years have been unkind to Michael, knowing he’s buckling under the strain of it – they have been positively cruel to January. Headmistress Jones as he’d known her, and he’d only recently been convinced to call her by her given name. The lines around her eyes seem permanently etched into her skin, and there are dark spots on the hands she puts on the table. Calm and serene as always – that doesn’t seem to have changed.
Michael looks away when she finds him, watches her eyes sweep toward Kevin.
Tension tightening like wires being wrapped around all of them there, and he doesn’t want to be there at all, and he looks behind January. At the woman in her wake.
Even in the sallow light of this rathole she’s – she’s beautiful, and vaguely familiar. It’s a disconcerting feeling. How could anyone forget a first glimpse of those blue eyes, hard and flinty and determined? But he must have, or this really is the first time he’s seeing her, hand on her gun and resolutely standing backup for her superior officer.
He slides his hands out of his pockets, slowly, telegraphing every movement – the brunette’s eyes swing to him, and it’s like being pinned down in blue flames. He completes the gesture, hands out and clear, and January flicks that icy glance of hers at him, and then over every other person on his side of the room. It’s almost a relief when she says, quietly, “Everyone in handcuffs except Kevin, and to the station with the lot.”
“I’ll have the team pack up,” the blue-eyed woman murmurs.
“Go, Jamie,” January says.
And then she comes to handcuff him herself. Her fingertips are cold on his wrists.
We weren’t supposed to meet like this.
Tell him something he doesn’t already know.
Kevin glares affably at her as she dumps a stack of files on the table. “Hello, Officer,” he drawls.
She favors him with a hard-edged smile. “It’s Sullivan, Detective Inspector Sullivan, but you can call me whatever you like, I’m just here for the paperwork.”
She wants to kick his shins. She wants to bash his head in.
She settles for glaring at him.
“You do know they take the cameras out of this place when it’s me and January doing the face-off bit,” Kevin mutters after a moment.
“Why are you telling me this? Better to have kept your fucking mouth shut, so that when I said you were being uncooperative it would have had the advantage of being true.” Oh, all right, might as well be snippy, she’s here and so is he, and he really should have known better, this shit is going to get people killed. Their people. She’s only been putting out all the fires he’s caused, on Judith’s express orders, for the entirety of her life. “What the fuck, Kevin.”
“This was necessary,” he says, urgent now. “Because now I know there’s a mole in my – our – ranks.”
Jamie leans in close and hurls the words into his face. “And you didn’t think you’d wind up exposing me in the process.”
“You flatter yourself too much,” Kevin mutters.
“Same to you,” she says. “Does she even know – ”
The door bangs open. January strides in, jerks her head, and someone else is being pushed into the room after her.
The man in cuffs watches everything and everyone warily. His eyes shift in the harsh overhead light, blue to green before finally settling on a sort of no-color grey that seems to subsume the two extremes.
Jamie meets those eyes head-on. He doesn’t recoil; he doesn’t look away.
When January begins to quiz them both Jamie ducks out. She pretends not to notice that Kevin is up to his ears in the fine art of bullshitting; she pretends not to notice the contempt in January’s eyes.
She remembers the silent man glancing at her, and she remembers looking at him, and that is all.
Shit shit shit.
The elevator climbs and climbs, and Jamie wants it to stop, wants the world to stop.
Someone has thrown January off a roof.
Someone has put a bullet into Kevin’s chest.
She should have known. This, this is a farce and she’s been playing the main character all along. And any moment now the farce will turn into a tragedy and she’s not even going to be the heroine of the piece.
She should have run. Her life is unraveling before her very eyes. She doesn’t know who she is any more. McAvoy or Sullivan? She can’t be neither, and she won’t be both.
Who would be in their right minds as to save her, Jamie thinks, and she steps out at last onto the rooftop. No matter that she’s been a cop, that she really still thinks of herself as one, fighting crime and corruption.
A perfectly still midday. The sun beats down on her head and shoulders. The city sprawled out before her, endless mirage, a nightmare under a bright blue sky.
The wind brings her whispers of movement. She can’t watch in all directions. She turns around, wary, frightened, for there’s nothing else to feel and no one’s coming to back her up. Not here. Not for this.
In her mind she can hear a high panicked refrain of get me out get me out. Wake me up.
Hard iron heat at the back of her head. Handgun.
Jamie raises her hands and closes her eyes.
“What do I do with you,” the voice behind her says.
The woman’s shoulders jolt in surprise.
Michael cocks the gun and, with the other hand, reaches for her waist, for the handcuffs riding her hip, on the opposite side of her pistol. He takes that, too. It’s not the standard-issue Glock – she’s carrying a P226 and the grip feels small in his hand somehow, as he stuffs it into the small of his back.
So it’s her, then, and the shock he’d felt when he’d first seen her was the shock of his instincts homing in on wrongdoing, on one of the bad guys.
Except isn’t he one of them, now, too?
He’s not gentle when he locks her wrists together. “Do you even have what I asked for,” he asks.
“Breast pocket,” is the unexpected answer. “Thumb drive.”
“What a piece of work is a man,” Michael quotes, cynical and tired, as he reaches over her shoulder. He doesn’t even have the time to think about what he’s really touching under the jacket, under the blouse. All his life and his identity, the truths he thought he could hold on to, reduced to ones and zeros.
He’s startled when she responds: “And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?” It’s as if she’s reading his mind. “Just pawns, right? You and me? I don’t even know why I think you must be so familiar, why I think you must have been at the academy. I remember people getting expelled left right and center. I came so close, once.”
It’s like a light switch has been flicked on in his memories because suddenly he pinpoints her, and the feeling of knowing her crashes back down on him. “You were almost at the top of the class,” he says.
“Almost.” She laughs bitterly. “Couldn’t be first, you know. People talked incessantly as it was. I had to be good, but I had to be human too. Still don’t see the point.”
“How can you be human, doing what you do,” Michael growls.
She turns around then. “And you? If you’ve run around with the McAvoys, you’ve been like them. You and I are alike. We’ve done everything wrong trying to do everything right.”
It’s the truth, and it fills him with hatred and remorse, and he levels the gun and points it right between her eyes. The sun is as nothing compared to her desperate flare. “I wonder if anyone would believe you, if I put you before a jury of your peers.”
“And is that really what you intend to do?” Jamie says. Damn it, why is she even fighting for her life, when she knows it’s forfeit?
“I don’t know,” Michael says at last. Why can’t he end this? Kill her or turn her in, he knows he’d be perfectly justified either way.
We could run.
A single thought in two minds.
They’re battlefields, victims and perpetrators both.
“I don’t trust you.” This may be the first clear thought he’s had in years, and it is the most irrational one of them all. Handcuffs off, he watches her frown at the marks on her wrists but she only calmly holds her hand out for her gun.
“Stay behind me, then. You may have the satisfaction of shooting me in the back the moment you think I’ve betrayed you.” She releases the safety on her P226 and leads him off the roof, hotwires a car so they can get away.
The blue skies are swallowed up in gray clouds and the weather turns on a dime, sunny to torrential in a matter of moments.
They are unmissed, and unnoticed, and neither of them really believes that perhaps they might not need to kill each other – they each believe this will still end in pistols at dawn or something much more mundane. A murder, a suicide, driving off a cliff, driving into a tree.
No matter. They’re alive. They can spin the illusion out for as long as it takes. Break the cycle. Save a life. Start over.
They don’t need to speak; they only need to watch their backs. Maybe they’ll learn to watch each other’s backs, and maybe they won’t.
He clutches his gun and looks out the windows, in the side-view mirror.
She drives, blank-faced, knuckles white on the wheel.