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Stockholm Christmas

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The winter chill followed Deadeye Detective into his apartment. It was empty, of course, just the way he’d left it that morning, except now it was dark. The low temperature nipped at him as he shed his hat and coat, and tried to drive him straight into his warm bed, but he would not be deterred. Just because he had left the office did not mean that his work was over. His work was never over, and he would sit at the table and tend to it until sleep became a necessity for survival.

Detective was a man of habit. He sat on the left side of his kitchen table ritually, just because it felt right, and hadn’t broken that pattern in years except for the rare case in which he had company. He had many little patterns like that; he took a precise amount of sugar in his tea and salt in his coffee, he had his entire work schedule measured down to the minute, he’d been buying the same smokes at the same shop for so long that he usually went in with exact change in his pocket.

Tonight, though, he sat down in his usual chair and something sharp that pierced the skin under his thigh taught him that rituals could be dangerous. It was too long to be a thumb tack, he noted, before he lost consciousness, and too thin to be a nail. A needle, undoubtedly. He deduced that even as he slipped away from the waking world.

When he came to, the syringe was, thankfully, removed. It was still dark, and he was, thankfully, still in his kitchen. He’d been bound tightly to the chair by his arms, waist, and legs. This came as no surprise. He couldn’t see anybody in his immediate line of vision, and yet, he knew he was not alone.

“Good evening, Innovator,” he said without turning his head. His own voice brought on a throb in his skull, but it was one he was used to. It wasn’t the first time he’d blundered into one of the Scoundrel’s traps.

“H-Hello, Detective,” the mobster replied. He was behind the chair, somewhat to the left, from what Deadeye could tell by his voice. “I h-hope the medicine h-hasn’t left y-you too ill th-this time.”

Innovator’s concern went completely ignored, as did all of his pleasantries. “What is it you want from me this time, Innovator?” Detective said, curt as could be.

There was a moment of silence, and although Deadeye couldn’t see him, he could picture well enough in his head the way his head canted to the side while he thought up a response. The way he analyzed every word and cadence and weighed their underlying meanings, searching your every reaction to him for something, anything, positive.

“I-It... It’s a-almost Christmas, Detective.” Two gentle, nearly weightless footsteps, and Deadeye could feel a presence next to his chair before he turned his head around to look. Innovator was holding a box, large and rectangular and bearing a purple bow. He set it on the table in front of Deadeye, but there was nothing he could do about it while his arms were still tied.

“And I didn’t get you anything,” Deadeye said. He was seriously considering the possibility that his gift was a bomb, and the words were harsh and sarcastic, but Innovator took them literally.

“Y-You don’t h-h-have to!” he said quickly, his tone rising for a moment, and then slipping back down to something meek and disheartened. “Just a-allow me t-to stay... f-for a moment,” he insisted, as if you had a choice in the matter. “I w-will l-leave soon, I p-promise. I j-just...”

Innovator trailed off, and while he struggled to finish his thought, his arm came to rest against Deadeye’s shoulders. The detective considered leaning over and sinking his teeth into the mobster’s dark flesh, but something electric that had been embedded in his subconscious told him not to, even though Innovator lacked any of his gadgets here.

“You just what?”

There was another pause, and this time Deadeye laid witness to that calculating tilt of Innovator’s head. “Please,” he said. “J-Just let m-me stay... j-just f-f-for a moment.”

Innovator had a way about being vague that drove Deadeye up the wall. He was an upfront man, interested only in facts, and not the mysterious thought pattern of a crazed Scoundrel. It took Innovator actually sitting down in his lap to figure out what he was talking about.

Deadeye found himself considering biting him again, now that his face was so close. Innovator’s arms were around his neck and his nose pressed into his cheek, and he was silent as the grave as he sat there. In order to nestle up against Deadeye properly he’d had to hunch down, but he didn’t seem to mind. He rarely made a fuss about anything, really.

Deadeye let a few beats pass, in which he talked himself down from biting a chunk out of the mobster’s cheek, and then spoke up. “Is this your twisted holiday tradition, then?”

This time Innovator caught the harshness in the words. He flinched as if he’d been struck, but, rather than pull back in response to a little hurt, he pressed himself tighter against Deadeye. 

“N-No,” he stuttered, as his fingers gripped at Deadeye’s collar for support. “I j-just needed t-to... I... I-I can’t...”

“Get over your obsession with me?” Deadeye offered, and didn’t miss the irony in trying to finish Innovator’s sentence for him.

To his surprise, Innovator shook his head. No, it wasn’t about him. Not entirely. “No, I... I c-can’t l-live... w-with th-the l-loneliness a-anymore... I-I know that y-y-you don’t c-care, b-but it... iit m-means a lot t-to me.”

He was right about that, at least; Deadeye did not care. “Don’t your criminal superfriends have any holiday get-togethers, Innovator?”

“Usually,” Innovator said, and his eyes drifted shut as he pressed his forehead against Deadeye’s. “We g-get drunk a f-few days before. But... I s-still g-go home to a-an empty h-house. No one i-is e-ever there wh-when I wake up o-on Christmas. N-Not s-since I was v-very little.”

Innovator was talking a lot. Too much, in fact. Deadeye held no sympathy for the sad little man in his lap, and yet egged the conversation on all the same, making mental notes of everything he said to be jotted down later. Deadeye had always had a habit of keeping notes about people--it was his habit as a criminal profiler--and Innovator, with all his quirks, had already filled several books that were stashed neatly away somewhere in Deadeye’s apartment.

He wondered, briefly, if Innovator knew, and if he would still be so insistent to try and open up to Deadeye if he did. He also wondered if that was why he tried to open up to him.

“Oh?” Deadeye said, feigning interest. “What about your parents?”

This was an intimate moment for Innovator, and he had no hesitation in responding. He had to be aware that Deadeye didn’t care for him, he’d said it himself, and yet the trust was unyielding.

“W-We stopped c-celebrating wh-when I was y-young.”

“Why is that?”

Innovator lifted his head and gave him a quizzical look, as if the answer should be obvious. “B-Because of m-me,” he said. “Th-they t-told me that I k-killed th-their s-spirit when I a-asked.”

Even Deadeye couldn’t taunt him about that. He’d already figured that a lot of Innovator’s issues lied with poor upbringing, and yet, the actual recount of it struck the man speechless. Innovator didn’t mind. He was content to hug Deadeye, nose buried against the side of his head as if shielding his face from the world would hide the rest of him.

A few minutes passed like that. No more than ten, Deadeye estimated, though he couldn’t see a clock from where he was. During that time, he felt something wet splash against his neck, and had to wonder at what point Innovator had started crying. He hadn’t made a peep, and it must have taken a great deal of self-restraint to keep the crack out of his voice.

All it did was make Deadeye uncomfortable. Emotions were not his forte.

“P-Please,” the mobster said suddenly. He had a way of detaching from his own thoughts and beginning to speak as if the listener had been privy to the entire idea. Deadeye shot him a confused look. “Please... d-don’t hurt me. I-I promise I’ll leave s-soon.” He leaned in, and Deadeye quickly realized that he was reaching behind the chair, untying his wrists without even getting up and putting himself a safe distance away. It was a terribly stupid show of trust.

“I s-swear, I will. I j-just want t-to see y-you open it.”

Ah, the box. Deadeye had nearly forgotten about it. He was still not convinced that it wasn’t a bomb, and he was also still not convinced that he didn’t want to break Innovator’s face. The mobster was so pathetically frail without his magic. The kitchen table was right next to them. He could easily grab Innovator’s head before he could work up a spark of fire and slam him into the wooden surface of the table until he lost consciousness. He’d never get a chance to fight back, and at least in prison he wouldn’t be alone on Christmas.

The temptation was almost overwhelming, and yet, once his hands were free, Deadeye did absolutely nothing. He sat rubbing his wrists to get the blood flowing again, and, for reasons beyond his own comprehension, didn’t lift a finger to harm Innovator.

He was rewarded for this. Innovator pecked him on the cheek, light enough that it could have been played off as an accidental brush, as he surrendered his seat in Deadeye’s lap and stood up. 

“Should I be worried about explosions or poison?” Deadeye asked, and yet, even as he did, his hands were outstretched and dragging the box close. Innovator merely pursed his lips and shook his head. Deadeye remained unconvinced, but curiosity got the better of him, and he tore into the paper anyway.

The box contained journals. They were leather-bound, and subtle in their elegance, black stitching and an engraved fractal pattern that only touched the corners. Most noticeable, metal plates at the center of the cover, with Deadeye’s name etched into them in a scripted font. His voyeuristic admirer had apparently taken notice of his fondness for note-keeping, enough so that he’d had several of these things made for him.

“D-Do you l-l-like them?” Innovator asked, enthralled with the whole thing, no matter how blank and unfeeling the look on Deadeye’s face was.

“It...” Deadeye paused, and that, in itself, was strange. It was hard to catch him off guard. “It’s a very thoughtful gift, Innovator. Thank you.”

Innovator smiled, a wide, joyous grin that contradicted his sad, watery eyes. “M-Merry Christmas, Detective,” he said, and then, as promised, he left. When he exited the apartment, he turned the doorknob, and very gently swung the door closed so that it wouldn’t make a sound.