"It wasn't until after
I poured the second cup
that I realized
I was alone."
--Tea For Two, by Pamela August Russell.
Tea is one of the few constants in your life. When all else is changing and shifting, whether it be inside yourself or external forces you have no control over, tea is always there. It’s something you know better than you know even better than yourself; you know the perfect ways to brew it, what to mix and how to stir, everything down to the last minute detail. If there’s anything in your life that is perfect, it’s this.
It’s your security blanket, in a way, though you would never call it that aloud. It untangles your mind when it twists itself into knots, releases the tensions and aches in your body when you’re wound up too tight and ready to lash out on the first person who dares to get between you and a cup. Today is no different, though you are already unwound and eased. You won’t say you’re happy. Happy is a little too much to reach for these days. Content? Pleased? One of those, you decide, with that extra pinch of nervousness swimming around in your chest.
You glance at the clock. Not much time has passed since you last checked on it, but it’s getting closer to 4 despite how every moment passes with feet stuck in the mud. You set the water to heat and wait for the whistle, busying yourself with cleaning up stray papers. Despite how much you like order and cleanliness, you have a bit of a mess here, a whirlwind of paper in the middle of your living room. You have a habit of writing your thoughts on any old scrap lying around and they have began to collect. Though you would not consider yourself a hoarder, you can’t bring yourself to get rid of them, either. They are little pieces of your soul left on shredded napkin corners or coffee-blotted newspaper clippings.
However, you do not want pieces of your soul laying around for others to see, ruin, step on, or any other number of ways to destroy your musings. You gather what you can and throw them into a trunk in your bedroom, with…well. You’d rather not say.
You check and recheck the various crevices for any strips left behind and are proud when you find nothing. The kettle begins to screech and you go with Chami at your heels.
When you walk into the kitchen, the first thing you do is check the clock on the wall--it’s perpetually off by thirteen minutes, but you’re used to accounting for that. A double-take confirms that yes, it’s just about 4 now; your stomach tries to kick itself in response. Easy, Innovator, you tell yourself, hands gripping the kettle’s handle a little too stiffly.
You set one cup down at the other end of your table, reserved for guest(s) of the highest caliber. It is, for the most part, free of any blemishes, while your side has chips in the wood from you picking at it when your attention drifts. You sit.
Eventually, Chami claws his way up your leg and settles there in your lap, a heap of black fuzz and furr and purring loudly. He looks up at you with wide eyes, yawns, and sets his chin on your thigh.
You make a noise not befitting a mobster of your status. Some would call it cooing, but you are manly as hell so it was clearly more like…a gentlemanly vocal affection toward a kitten. There’s a word for that in some language, surely. If there isn’t you decide to make one up. Possibly in Italian.
The clock boasts past 4, already 15 minutes so. You frown and stir your tea, nearly tepid at this point. You contemplate throwing both cups back in the microwave, but Chami sleeps in your lap and you would hate to dislodge him. If it were you comfortable and warm and asleep, you would scratch the first person who tried to drag you out of bed too.
Sighing, your eyes drift towards the windows. The shades are open for the first time in a while, but there’s no light filling the room; it’s a pale afternoon. Rain patters against the glass pane. A weak storm, but perhaps a reason for the lateness. Inclement weather and all.
Eventually--no idea of what time, as you stopped checking the clock--you put your head down against the table. The wood is cool against your skin. Despite the hour, you find yourself drifting away.
When you awaken, it is not peacefully, nor is it to what you hoped. Chami paps your cheek with one paw, claws extended only so you feel a little pinch. He’s smart, you’ll give him that. He mewls in your face when you finally do stir.
“What time is it?” you ask, before you realize he can’t answer. He sits on the table watching you rub exhaustion from your face. Sitting upright gets you a series of crackling down your spine. Outside the windows, the sky has darkened, the pale light of morning bled away into grays smeared with black. It’s your kind of night, the kind where you don your coat and hat and sweep into the streets to see what you could break and what you could gain.
You stare at the cup across from you. The seat remains unoccupied, cup full and effort gone to waste.
First thought: rude.
Second thought: really rude.
If there was anything in life you were certain of, it's that Deadeye Detective is never late for tea--without reason, of course. And he always makes sure to give you some notice, not leave you sleeping at your table for however many hours you were dead to the world. You calculate the time, stare into the night and wait for something to look back.
When nothing does, you set out food and water for Chami, recheck your keys, and you are off.
Searching for things is not your strong point. In some other life, had the tables been turned and you were the detective, maybe it was something you could take pride in, but not here and now with the dark at your back and shadows running in your blood. You first visit his office, to see if he is still working--he usually is, if he has no other plans--but when you materialize there, it is not bathed in light. The office is as dark as the shadows you bring. There are whispers, stirrings in corners and all along the walls. You pay attention to none of it; you do not even turn on the lights. You rifle through his desk a bit, making sure to put everything just the way you found it, of course, but to no avail. Not a hint or clue that may lead you in the right direction.
You check his apartment only to find much of the same. Empty and dark, like he went on vacation and hasn’t returned, which is certainly not the case. Deadeye is married to his job through and through, and you don’t exactly take a vacation from your marriage. Your hands are shaky when they dial his number, and even worse when there’s no answer and you send him an unassuming text. There’s probably a typo or two in there, but you don’t dwell on proper syntax and spelling when sirens are wailing in your head.
Not the good kind of sirens either; not the kind that lure sailors out to sea with melodies and beauty, more like the blare of an ambulance at three in the morning.
You step out from his apartment building, unsure of where to go next. Lightning crackles above your head and lights up the entire street. Seconds later booms the thunder, so loud you feel it through your shoes. The rain comes down a little harder now, but that doesn’t deter you. You’re a bloodhound without a scent to follow, pawing through the streets. All of this is Scoundrel territory, the side streets and dead ends as familiar as the lines in your skin; everywhere are places and faces you know well. None of them are Deadeye.
Soon you find yourself way out of your area, where the map in your mind fuzzes at the edges. The whole city is yours, there’s no mistaking that, though there are parts like these that are...less known to you, simply because there’s nothing of use around here. A family owned deli, a mattress store. No government buildings or high rises to take as you please.
Over the drumming of rain against concrete you hear voices down an alleyway. Strange, you think, to be out on a night like this. Surely whatever they’re speaking about is less important than your cause.
With little effort, you draw the shadows around you, a blanket of ice in constant motion against your body. Clothes, you’ve learned, do nothing to ward off the chill of your magic, and it feels like you’ve just been dumped into the Arctic ocean. There’s no better way to hide yourself than with your surroundings. Every step into the alley and away from the streetlight is careful despite the fact your shadows would muffle your footsteps.
From what you can tell there are six of them, wearing dark clothes and each with an umbrella. Above the thick smell of decay that’s normal in alleyways, the smell of blood drifts your way. You don’t see a body. You don’t need to.
They boast, mostly, arrogance spewing out of their mouths. Nothing of importance to you. One twirls his knife about in his hand--you’d be impressed, if not for the fact a monkey like Scout could do twenty times better when he’s drunk--and you know, without a doubt, the blade is stained red. The shadows slink away from you, crawl down your body and pool at the farthest man’s feet, a hungry army awaiting orders to seek and destroy. Before he could open his mouth to shout a warning, he is consumed with flames of violet. You take your favorite knife from your pocket and slit the throat of bastard closest to you. There’s blood on your hands now too and all down the front of his jacket.
One swings at you with his umbrella. You duck underneath and laugh in his face as you cut a horizon line in his stomach.
You’re going to tell this one to Scofflaw. He’d get a kick out of it.
The other three abscond as if you’d set their feet on fire. Maybe you did.
You’re chuckling as you burn the bodies--ashes to ashes, dust to dust, yahtzee to jenga, whatever else normal people say to the dead--until you turn and look a little further down the alley. Another body is propped against the wall, one that you didn’t kill, and not one wearing black.
His suit is white, in fact, except in the places where blood has drenched through and blooms on his coat and pants. You start so quickly you nearly fall over into a puddle--of blood or rain you don’t know and you hope you don’t find out. Your magic fizzles out and you feel the tingle in your body from where it protests, but you don’t listen, every part of you focused on that light in the dark that is Deadeye Detective, waiting for eyes to open and regard you with cold curiosity, detachment, frustration or hatred you’d take any of it to see blue eyes staring at you through the rain.
They don’t, though.
You kneel down beside him. You reach but don’t know for what, like you could possibly drag him back to life if you shook hard enough. Your hands hover there awkwardly--don’t touch the suit, you’ll ruin it, you’ll mess it up and he’ll be mad--until you touch his neck, one hand for a pulse and the other on his chest. No beat beneath your fingertips and no rise and fall for you palm, just damp clothes and wet skin and enough crimson to last a lifetime.
Something fractures in your chest--you won’t say your heart, you’re fairly certain you don’t have one, but if you did that’s what it was, tearing itself up because you lost. You lost to faceless goons in an alley, you lost to your ignorance, you lost Deadeye, the only person in the world who might’ve understood you. You lost afternoon tea, mornings of waking up to warmth; you lost a language spoken in looks and gestures, you lost books read on the couch in silence but the most comfortable silence you could ask for.
Part of you gained freedom, that you know too, from broken bones and bruises and the pains of abuse. But that doesn’t come close to what you’ve lost. You’d take a thousand more nights like that if you could have one hour of a shared dinner or of watching a documentary with Chami huddled up between you.
You are lost again. You know that deep in your bones you were dependent on Deadeye. You squeeze yourself in between his arm and his chest and sit there like you might on your couch. You press kisses to his neck but all you taste and smell is a mix of rain copper, nothing else left behind of Deadeye Detective, just the water washing away the blood and him and everything that you can’t hold on to.
Unable to bring yourself to leave him, you fall asleep to the cold numbing your limbs.
The rain stops. Light creeps up on the world and scatters the darkness. A bird sings somewhere off in the distance.
He remains very much gone.
You leave with him.
And you come back with him, though he is very different from how he was when you left.
You cleaned him up the best of your ability. Rigor mortis, while possibly one of a homicide detective’s best friend, is not on your side. As much as you wanted to put a new suit on him, you can’t bear to break his joints like that. You do, however, free him from what stains you can and bring some semblance of life back into his clothes. You cleaned the blood and dirt from what parts of him were accessible.
Yet you leave him, just where you found him, except now he’s less of a grey, slumped shape in the alleyway. He’s straight up, expecting you, and his suit is much whiter and drier, the contrast between the concrete behind him startling.
He would not have wanted to be found a mess. He was a pillar of perfection and strength at the worst of times. It’s the least you can do for him, for all the things he’s given to you; he saved your life, once, a long time ago. You can’t repay him now, too late for that, but there’s this.
You call an ambulance, because fuck if you’d even think about calling The Fuzz or the Company, and then you leave him, right where you found him, right where he died in his own blood and now he is nothing short of pristine.
He would appreciate it, you think.
You would also like to think he will appreciate what you do in the hours after, before the sun sets, with Scofflaw watching your back. All it took was one look at you to know something was wrong; he’s your brother, after all, and he was up in a second with his keys in hand. He didn’t ask, you didn’t tell, but he knows, and if he didn’t before he does now. The rage you let loose against the ones who got away is unprecedented, your magic hissing over the shrieks of pain, and when it is still not enough to ease the burning in your limbs you tear them apart with your hands; your vision is bright red either from anger or blood, maybe both, it’s too hot and your shadows are freezing and oh there is a piece of someone’s brain on your fist by the time you regain some part of yourself, your breathing heavy and your throat dry, every gasp scratches and makes you cough into your jacket because your hands are drenched.
You run a hand through your hair anyway, coating it with a healthy dose of blood too. You’ve lost the ability to care for much of anything. You just are, you exist, but everything is distant and detached you’re not sure if you’re awake or dreaming. Scofflaw sits with you, a hand on your shoulder; he has his own detective, and there’s something in his face almost like he understands. He never could, though, because he still has Scout, Scout is living and breathing and Deadeye is…stopped.
Time passes. You don’t know how much or how little. At some point, Scofflaw warps both of you back to your house, makes sure you wash up and eat 'for Christ’s sake'. In a puff of black he leaves to check on Scout.
Being back home tears at you. It‘s the finality of it all setting into your mind. You return to your kitchen table and stare into the empty space between you and the other side and know you will never have the pleasure of Deadeye joining you for tea again.
You set out two cups, anyway.