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The Choir Invisible

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“I think I’m a ghost savant,” Marc-André said under his breath, the day after they met. “I’m like one of those psychic TV-show hosts. I’m the Cesar Millan of ghosts. I’m a ghost whisperer.”

“Wasn’t that already a shitty television show?” Kris said. “And no you’re fucking not; anyone can talk to me. I’m dead, not deaf.”

“Well, nobody else here speaks French,” Marc-André said. “So yes I am.”

“Excuse me?” the librarian said, in plain Pittsburgh English, as Marc-André gazed meaningfully at the space where Kris was standing, however incorporeally. “Is there something I can help you with?”

Marc-André didn’t need much help with anything, thanks. He definitely didn’t need help with Kris.

“This is a travesty,” Kris said, and from across the office Marc-André watched Carl shift uncomfortably in his seat.

“Be quiet,” Marc-André whispered. The physics of Kris’ actual presence were the subject of much consternation, but if he talked loud enough, eventually anyone could hear him.

“Whatever,” Kris said. “If they don’t mind you talking to yourself over here, they won’t mind the occasional howl. What are you going to do about this literal crime against humanity?”

They didn’t mind Marc-André talking to himself. Warlocks were supposed to be fucking weird, and Marc-André would take his stereotypes and run with them.

When he’d first met Kris, he’d thought maybe Kris only sounded like he was speaking French, because everyone else couldn’t tell Kris was talking at all. Maybe Marc-André was special, and the universe was translating Kris’ ghastly horror-yells into something vaguely comforting for him?

The universe had not been doing shit. Kris had said, fucking excuse me? when Marc-André had asked if he was really Québecois, like Marc-André had implied he was actually from Ottawa or something, and that part of the case had been, as the district cops liked to say, fucking closed, you tenacious pissants.

This case was still wide open, though, and Pittsburgh’s premier paranormal detective agency was only getting warmed up.

They advertised in the backs of crappy magazines for wanna-be witches, for the kinds of people who thought that getting a really nice new hat and some herbs put you in touch with the Earth mother’s power. They advertised on the kinds of websites that ran blog pieces about THE TRUTH BEHIND THE GREAT BEYOND, because when you were desperate enough to call a paranormal detective agency, that was where you went looking for one.

They got hauntings and supernatural kidnappings and monsters under people’s beds. They got cases that turned out to be curses; they got cases that turned out to be a raccoon. They got cases that turned out to be stabbings, like, the regular human kind. They got all sorts.

They got women weeping into their handkerchiefs like something out of a noir novel; men, too. Pretty much everyone’s dead grandpa was trying to cross the veil, if you asked.

Marc-André’s grandfather was doing fine, thank you, not that it kept him phantom-free.

This case was shaping up to be maybe just gross human crime, but there was still something that felt… off.

“Maybe it’s not the regular mob,” Marc-André said in English. “Maybe it’s the ghost mob.”

“Oh, fuck you,” Kris said. He was wearing his black toque down past his ears and a scarf over his face, and all Marc-André could see was the cranky blaze of his dark eyes. “I know what ‘ghost’ means, you shit.”

“Really?” Tanya retorted, raising one perfect eyebrow at Marc-André. “I get that we don’t know how they killed that woman, but we don’t even know if ghosts are real.” The wind was whipping around them as they walked toward the garage, and Marc-André had to lean in to even hear her.

“Hmm,” Marc-André said slowly, enunciating as clearly as he could. “I guess ghosts could be made up.”

“I will cut you,” Kris said.

“No you won’t,” Marc-André murmured. “You can’t.”

“I am not —”

“Hush,” Marc-André said, carelessly loud.

“Don’t you shush me, Fleury,” Tanya said, and Marc-André watched Kris’ lips curl in a slow, feral grin.

Kris smiled as much as anyone. He had a pretty good time, dead or alive.

Honestly, if you asked Marc-André, no one alive had a smile quite like he did.

“Is it because you’re dead?” Marc-André had asked in their first weeks of friendship, and Kris had blinked, for once truly guileless.

“Is… what?” Kris had said.

“The ‘you’ll get what’s coming for you’ face,” Marc-André had said. “The murder smile.”

Kris had laughed and flashed his white, even teeth, impeccable even in the afterlife.

“It’s not because I’m dead,” Kris had said, somewhere between charming and predatory, “and lighten up, Marc-André. What’s coming for you isn’t necessarily murder.”

It wasn’t clear where Kris came from. He was dead, certainly, and when he’d been alive he’d been from Montréal. He’d been shot to death, actually, in circumstances on which he very obnoxiously refused to elaborate, but that still didn’t explain why he was here.

Marc-André had a side project of trying to figure out how exactly Kris had died, but since Kris refused to provide his last name or say how old he was, it had not proven very successful.

Marc-André had come from Sorel-Tracy, and he was here because his mother was a witch and his father was a warlock. It wasn’t very complicated. The agency was here because Sid was a ruthless, organizationally-minded bastard, and because the non-dead among them all needed food to eat.

“This is nice,” Kris had said the first time Marc-André had shown him the agency headquarters, and he hadn’t even sounded like he was making fun of them.

Kris didn’t do anything for work. He didn’t need to. He’d used to be a tailor, apparently, but it was hard for him to touch things these days. Not impossible, but not easy. He still dressed like a man who knew how to make his living in clothing; Marc-André had no idea where he got his figmentary clothing, or whether it had ever even been real, but he cut a hell of a figure in it either way.

“Thank you,” Marc-André had said, running his fingers over the cool wood of his desk, and tried not to look too smug about it.

It was nice; they did pretty well. They had a lot of crackpots who thought that Mr. Muffinpaws could be reincarnated, but when the real cases came in the door, they came ready to pay.

It was good, because they did spend rather a lot of money on fines and bail. There was a fair to moderate amount of trespassing involved in surreptitiously investigating, like, murders.

“I think this might go deeper than we thought,” Sid said the next day, blowing in the door covered in what looked like sawdust, and Marc-André flipped his book shut and sat up.

“How so?” Linda asked. “Also, you know, the cops called for you.”

The cops called for Sid all the time, mostly with subpoenas and search warrants.

“For me, or about me?” Sid asked.

“For you,” Linda said, handing him a piece of paper from her desk. “It was just Voracek this time, so there was minimal yelling.”

“Great, now I have to call him back,” Sid said. “If you’d told me it was that asshole, I could have thrown this away.”

Sid was telekinetic, but he’d never once hit Giroux in the head with a brick, which was more than Marc-André would be able to say for himself if he had the option.

If the cops were already involved, though, then Sid was right. It did go deeper than they’d thought, and probably in a worse direction.

It was just one dead woman, and that happened all the time. It was just a strange circumstance, but circumstances could be strange. People did so many perplexing things.

“This is depressing,” Kris said, poking at Marc-André’s notebook.

It was late, or early, depending on your opinion. Kuni was asleep on the floor. Sid was working; Tanya was working. Marc-André was sort of working, but Kris was right. This was kind of bringing him down.

“You’re dead,” Marc-André told Kris. “You should be used to thinking about this kind of shit.”

“What?” Sid said, rubbing his hand over his face, and Marc-André felt a little bad for confusing him when he was vulnerable with sleep deprivation.

Marc-André had known Kris for almost as long as he’d been a part of the agency, which made the whole talking-to-himself thing just a quirk of his personality.

“Nothing,” Marc-André said, like he always said.

Sid stared at him for a long moment. “Okay,” he said.

“Hey,” Kris shot back, “I’m not nothing just because your friends are dumb.”

His face was the same as always, wild and a little haughty. His long dark hair was tangled around his ears; he looked like Kris, whatever Kris was, his skin lit by a glow from something other than the desk lamp.

He looked like Kris, but with a bitter tinge to his eyes.

“Sorry,” Marc-André said, and not to Sid. Kris’ English was honestly just fine by this point.

It had been two years: two years of knowing him, two years of just the two of them. Marc-André sometimes wondered if Kris wished he was back home, or that he didn’t have to hang out with Marc-André all the time. Kris had to get bored, in so many ways; he had to get tired of this. He had to want to talk to someone else, and he had to get sick of Marc-André.

He could go, of course. He could leave and Marc-André would never find him, and if he ever did leave Marc-André would probably even forgive him, after a while.

Sid’s eyes flickered toward the empty space to Marc-André’s left, and then back to Marc-André, and then he looked away.

Marc-André’s friends weren’t dumb, but he was beginning to despair of ever figuring out a way to make Kris, like, appear.

“I do appear,” Kris said snottily. “I’m a fucking apparition. Appearing is the extent of what I do.”

“To me,” Marc-André said.

“Yes,” Kris said, “like I said, appearing is the extent of what I do to you,” either threatening or flirting. Marc-André could literally never tell.

“Go away,” he said instead. “The cops are coming to search the place, and we can’t have anything weird around.”

“Oh, no,” Kris said, “I guess you’re going to go to jail again then —”

“Homicide! Open up,” Giroux shouted from the stoop.

“It’s unlocked!” Marc-André yelled back in French, because fucking seriously.

It was a cold, wet fall already, gusty and damp, and Giroux let the door hang open as he surveyed the half-empty room.

“We have a warrant,” he said unnecessarily, in English.

“No shit,” Marc-André said. “Sid’s in the back. Make yourself at home. Shut the door, would you?” he added in French, glancing at Kris.

“Look, Fleury,” Giroux started, slipping back into French, then jumped when Kris reached out and pushed the door shut.

“Thanks,” Marc-André said.

“Mm,” Kris said, coming to lean against Marc-André’s desk with his hands in his pockets.

“What — oh,” Sid said, coming out of the storeroom on a wave of impatient disgust. “It’s you.”

“We have a warrant,” Giroux said again, even ruder this time.

“I’m sure you do,” Sid said. They stared at each other for a long second.

“Wow, this is like great cinema,” Kris drawled.

“What?” Giroux said, twisting around.

“What?” Sid said, baffled. “What are you looking at?”

“Wait, what?” Marc-André said. “No fucking way —”

“No! No, unfair, Hell no,” Kris said, pushing off the desk. “This guy?” he yelled, and Marc-André watched Giroux’s eyes focus on something he’d never seen before, narrow down on a space he hadn’t known was there.

“Holy fucking shit,” Giroux said, going dangerously pale.

“I hope you know that I already hate you,” Kris told him viciously, which is how they ended up with a eighth district homicide inspector passed out on their agency floor.

“Is it just French Canadians?” Marc-André asked, incredulous, and Kris made a face.

“Shut up,” he said. “That’s stupid.”

You’re stupid,” Marc-André said dutifully, “and that doesn’t mean it’s not true.”

“Stop,” Sid said, his voice nearly shaking, and Marc-André looked up and looked around the room.

Kris took a step back, yielding the floor to Marc-André and Marc-André alone, and for the thousandth time Marc-André wished they could just see him.

Marc-André stood up. Giroux was breathing, and he would wake up soon enough, so they might as well get this over with. Olli was frowning; Phil’s mouth was actually open. Carl had his arms crossed in front of him, like he could ward off the weirdness with a stance.

“All this time,” Sid said, “you’ve been talking to someone?”

Giroux woke up halfway through the story, and for all that Marc-André could have done without ever seeing his ugly face again, at least he was a useful witness.

“I can’t believe ghosts are real,” Giroux said, staring at Kris like he had two heads. Kris glared at him.

“And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but what he said,” Sid said slowly.

“He’s just another dead guy,” Marc-André said, sticking with English. “You’re a homicide detective. Don’t make a big deal of it.”

“It’s two years too late for that!” Sid hissed. “How the fuck is this possible?”

“Don’t ask me to explain it,” Marc-André said, “I didn’t kill him,” and Giroux blanched.

“Christ,” Giroux said, “you have a ghost in your midst and you’re making murder jokes?”

“He’s not ‘in our midst’,” Marc-André snapped back. “He’s not haunting the goddamned place. He’s right fucking there.”

The room went quiet. Marc-André took a breath.

“Huh,” Kris said into the empty air, and Marc-André took heart in the fact that at least one other person could hear him through the silence.

“What?” Marc-André asked. Sid was still staring. Phil hadn’t closed his mouth yet; he was probably going to get stuck like that.

“I didn’t know you were so bothered by it,” Kris said, an oddly intense light in his eyes.

“I didn’t know you were so good at English,” Marc-André managed after a pause. “Fucking finally.”

Kris had another smile, not the murder one. He had something else, something that he never used, something sweet and practically dear. It made it look like there was a softness in his heart, and Marc-André wondered if he’d used to look that way more often, whenever it was that he’d last been alive.

“I’m going to have to come back for the search,” Giroux said, all of the edge long since gone out of his voice.

It was late. Sid had sent half the staff home to placate Giroux, who refused to discuss the possibility of a goddamned paranormal murder with more than three people.

“There’s only two of —” Sid had said, and then stopped.

Marc-André went to his desk and got his notebook, and Sid reached out and tossed his through the air to himself.

“I don’t think I can do this,” Giroux said from the leather chair they usually reserved for clients and the bereaved.

“You can always leave,” Kris said. Giroux looked up at him without flinching, without hesitation.

“Not if I’m going to solve this fucking case,” he said with palpable disdain.

For all that Marc-André would rather bury Giroux in a hole than be grateful to him, it was a hell of thing to see.

Giroux was a piece of shit and Marc-André didn’t want to look at him, much less talk to him, but Kris… Kris had to want someone else to talk to.

Sid called an all-staff meeting the next morning at the crack of fucking dawn.

“What the hell is this about,” Linda said muzzily. “Sid, this is cruel. This is a cruel hour.”

“This is important,” Sid said in his MBA voice, and Marc-André watched the room sit up a little straighter. Kris slouched into his chair, leaning Marc-André’s direction.

He didn’t let off heat, but Marc-André thought he could tell when they were almost touching, by now. There was a buzz to it, like low-grade static.

“We’ll be going to the warehouse where Greta Carter was murdered, and if what we’re thinking is true, it could be dangerous,” Sid said. “I want Cullen, Linda, and Geno to stay here and keep things running. It’ll be me, Tanya, Flower, Giroux, and, uh.”

“Kris,” Marc-André said.

“And Kris,” Sid said. There was a rustle of noise, a murmur of seats shifting and faces turning toward Marc-André.

Beside Marc-André, Kris sighed.

“You don’t have to go,” Marc-André said quietly.

“No,” Kris said, staring straight ahead. “I should.”

“Does he have a last name?” Sid asked.

Marc-André already knew why he’d never tried to explain this before. He didn’t need it rubbed in his face.

“He,” Marc-André spat, “is right there. Pretend to fucking try.”

“It’s not that easy!” Sid said. “You tell me yesterday that there’s a person, a dead person, who’s been just, what, just standing in the room with us talking to you this whole — for years, Flower, this is —”

“As if this is the weirdest thing we’ve ever seen!” Marc-André yelled. “We captured a chupacabra last month!”

“He’s dead!” Sid shouted. “There’s a dead person in this room and I can’t see them! I’m allowed to be upset!”

“Kris!” Marc-André shouted back. “It’s Kris, and it’s not some — some curse, you asshole! He’s been here this whole fucking time!”

“Letang,” Kris said suddenly.

“I’m sorry, what?” Marc-André said, spinning around in his chair, and Sid abruptly closed his mouth on whatever he’d been about to say.

“My last name is Letang,” Kris said. “If he wants to put me on the payroll.”

Marc-André gaped at him.

“Did he say something important?” Sid asked. Holy shit, Marc-André thought.

“No,” Marc-André said, staring at Kris. “No, I — it’s nothing.”

Kris had died in 1927, in Montréal. He had been killed in the home of a man named Roy Groswell, an American from New York with three grown sons and a thriving dressmakers’ business that he had only just expanded to the great white north.

Kristopher Letang had been pronounced dead after being discovered in the house of his newfound rival, shot to death alongside one of Groswell’s sons. It had been a terrible accident.

“Oh my god,” Marc-André said in awe. Kris was sitting on the floor next to his desk, staring resolutely into space. Sid had left to get ready for their field trip this afternoon, and the agency was empty except for Linda, who was still grinding through the billing from the last three months.

Kris didn’t say anything.

It had been a terrible accident, a misfired hunting rifle. There had been no inquest and no funeral service. Neither man had been married; neither man had been buried in a churchyard.

Alan Groswell’s portrait in the death announcement was very nearly as beautiful as Kris’, though he looked more innocent. Kris had apparently had that glint in his eye for almost a century.

“You’re a gay spectral Romeo? Is this fucking real?” Marc-André asked. “Am I getting this right?”

“Romeo killed himself,” Kris said sharply. Marc-André sucked in a breath and bit his tongue.

Kris was gazing up at the overhead light, impassive and uninviting and ever cool in the warm gleam, and he looked like nothing so much as a ghost now.

“I’m sorry,” Marc-André said. He couldn’t imagine it, any of it. He didn’t know who he felt worse for: Kris, shot to death with a fucking hunting rifle and buried silently in his cousins’ backyard, or Alan.

Groswell had been Alan’s father, after all, and Marc-André’s lungs felt tight at the thought of it.

“It was a long time ago,” Kris said, but it didn’t seem very distant now.

Kris was made of something thicker than air, strangely warm and electric; Marc-André could reach right through him, but he could still tell where he began and ended. When Marc-André stretched out his foot to nudge the side of Kris’ hip where he sat, it took a moment for Kris to react.

“Times have changed,” Marc-André said when Kris looked up at him.

Kris’ smile made Marc-André’s heart ache.

“I haven’t,” Kris said softly, more hopeless than Marc-André had ever heard him.

Marc-André opened his mouth and closed it again. Kris was right; Kris was long, long lost. Marc-André had never supposed it had been this many years since he’d died. Marc-André had never thought of this.

“Flower?” Sid said, and Marc-André jerked his head up to meet Sid’s most concerned look.

“I’m fine,” Marc-André said automatically. “Sorry. When did you get back?”

Giroux insisted on taking them to the warehouse in a police cruiser, which was awkward and annoying. The backseat wasn’t made to fit three people, so Marc-André ended up sitting half through Kris, lighting up Marc-André’s left side with the bizarre itch of taking up the same space.

“This is weird,” Giroux said for the fifteenth time, glancing at Marc-André in the rearview mirror, and Marc-André rolled his eyes.

“Watch the road,” Marc-André told him.

The warehouse was pitch fucking black inside, and the only thing Marc-André could see was the pale, ethereal glow of Kris’ back.

“Shit,” Sid said. “Hang on, I’ve got a flashlight.”

“How does he do that?” Giroux whispered from behind Marc-André. Kris was wearing a white T-shirt that made him shine like a firefly, and Marc-André didn’t know if it was intentional or not, but it was helpful.

“What, Sid?” Marc-André said. “He just likes to be prepared.”

“Oh, fuck you, Fleury,” Giroux said, and then Sid flicked on his flashlight and everything went dark.

Marc-André had been arrested four times. Twice he’d spent the night in holding, although the agency had always fronted his bail, and the district jail wasn’t even that bad.

This was bad.

They were — they were probably still in the warehouse. Marc-André’s head felt like it was full of ether and mush, and his left temple hurt like fuck. He was lying on the floor, and he couldn’t move his hands.

Someone was talking, next to him.

“— maybe if Flower can get us out of these, we could —” Sid was saying.

“Hnn,” Marc-André said.

“Flower?” Sid said.

“Are you okay?” Tanya said.

The floor was cold; Marc-André was cold. The district jail was at least warm, he reflected.

“Yes,” Marc-André managed. It was dark, darker than upstairs somehow, and — “What happened?” he said. “Where’s Kris?”

Sid breathed in, and Tanya breathed out. No one said anything.

“Is he gone?” Sid said finally.

“I don’t know,” Marc-André said. Fuck, it looked like he was. Fuck. “Kris?” he called hopefully, but the blackness didn’t move.

“I think they took us downstairs,” Tanya said. “Giroux is over here. He’s breathing.”

“Ugh,” Marc-André said. “Oh well.”

“Yeah,” Sid said, with feeling.

“If you psychos are done,” Tanya said.

“Frrgk,” a heavy voice said from beyond Tanya, and Sid groaned.

There were two people, they decided. At least two people had dragged them down here and tied them up, and the handcuffs they were wearing were just regular steel.

“Is this not even magic?” Tanya asked. Marc-André shrugged into the darkness.

“It is,” he said. “It doesn’t feel right down here. I can’t do anything; I can’t even start a spell.”

“Is there a way this would feel right?” Giroux said.

“It’s definitely magic,” Kris said, walking through the wall of blackness to just appear, impossibly luminous, like the only star in an empty universe.

“Oh thank god,” Marc-André said in French.

“Where the fuck were you?” Giroux said.

“I take it he’s back,” Tanya said.

It was magic, but only by half. The two men were just men, but they wanted to be more. There were always men who wanted to be more.

The ones who wanted it enough, they found a way.

“They killed Greta Carter to start the ritual,” Kris told them. “I don’t think they need four people to finish it, but I don’t think they’re going to hesitate to finish you all off, either.”

There was a beat of silence.

“Is this what you assholes do for fun?” Giroux said tartly.

“Stop whining,” Marc-André said. To his left, Sid twisted around and stretched out his legs in front of him.

“So,” Sid said cautiously, “what’s going on?”

“They’re going to kill us,” Marc-André said. “Pretty much.”

“‘Pretty much’?” Tanya asked.

“They’re going to use us in some fucked-up ritual,” Giroux spat. “You people are lunatics.”

“There’s only two of them, though,” Sid said. “Why don’t we just — what do you jackasses say? Call for backup?”

Marc-André met Kris’ eyes and waited for them to figure it out.

Kris was crouched down beside him, his elbow on his knee as he lit the room, and his watery shine made them all look a little undead themselves.

“I told them where I’d be going,” Giroux said. “They could be here in ten minutes.”

“Call them with what?” Marc-André said.

Kris closed his eyes.

“…oh,” Tanya said.

“I’m sorry,” Kris said, without looking up. “I’m so fucking sorry, Marc-André.”

“You didn’t —” Marc-André said.

“I think I hear something,” Tanya cut in, and in the distant recesses of the room, far past Kris’ light, a door opened.

No one spoke, even Kris. There were only two sets of footsteps, but they were coming closer.

A match lit, and the room was cast into painful brightness.

“They’re awake,” one of the men said.

They were holding knives, Marc-André noticed. The blades curved in the dancing flame of the first man’s — it was a candle, squat and red. He was lighting them around the room, and things were slowly, slowly coming into relief.

Well, Marc-André thought, relief was the wrong word.

The floor was cold concrete, and the walls were ragged brick. There was old, dried, brown blood smeared on the gray floor beside Marc-André; there was blood smeared on the overalls of the second man, but his knife was clean.

“If you kill us,” Giroux started, and the first man reached out and slapped him in the face with blade of his knife. Giroux screamed, a terrible, involuntary sound.

“Holy fuck!” Sid shouted.

There was blood on the floor there, too, now, the last quiet part of Marc-André’s brain registered.

“Shit,” Kris whispered. Marc-André started to struggle, started to really fight the handcuffs. Tanya was murmuring to herself, some kind of desperate spell, but the heavy cloak of this place was smothering: Marc-André could feel it sputter out before it started.

The first man grabbed Tanya by her hair and dragged her toward him. Marc-André’s wrists were bleeding, he thought; he was going to die.

Kris was moving, but there was nothing he could do. Tanya was screaming, screaming like Giroux had, high-pitched and helpless, and Marc-André didn’t want to look, didn’t want to see them take a knife to her.

He was going to die here, in this cold fucking warehouse basement, cut up and cut apart, frozen and bloody — his teeth began to chatter. He breathed out and watched it coalesce in the air in front of him, soft like smoke.

“What the fuck?” Sid said, shivering.

Kris was moving, crackling in and out of vision like television static, and it was so fucking cold. Ice snaked in crystal vines up the walls, and then Kris stopped moving and reached out to touch the man holding Tanya.

A brick cracked with cold, spitting bits of clay across the room.

“Oh my god,” Giroux whispered. The screaming was different now.

Kris’ face was torn in half, a wet red hole where his right eye and cheek were supposed to be. He was wearing a suit, shredded and soaked with blood over his belly. Marc-André could see his spine through the crater in his flesh. One of the men was already on the floor at his feet, unmoving.

“Oh Jesus Christ,” Sid was saying. “Oh shit. Oh shit.”

The man was white like wax where Kris was touching his jaw, stiff and twisting in on himself. Kris’ hand was almost inside him, sneaking into the flesh of his neck, and Marc-André watched as the man’s left side abruptly seized up and he collapsed.

Tanya was still lying on the ground, but she was starting to move. Kris reached out and gripped the chain of her handcuffs, and the metal cracked and split in his palm.

“Okay,” Giroux said shakily. His eyes were crushed shut. “Okay. Okay.”

Kris’ footsteps left long smears of blood on the floor; his pant legs were stuck to his legs with the wetness pooling from the hole in his stomach. Marc-André watched in fascination as delicate ferns of ice grew over the surface of the droplets that hit the concrete.

Kris bent down to touch the handcuffs at Sid’s wrists. They snapped just as Sid retched, a cut-off noise and then again and longer, sour and awful. Giroux’s eyes were still closed when Kris got to him.

Kris smiled when he knelt down in front of Marc-André, half a smile in half a face.

He was horrifying close up. The bone of his forehead was visible, and something that might have been brain. His hair was matted to the hole in his face in clumps. It was sickening, but mostly it made Marc-André want to punch someone.

It was sickening; it was infuriating. Someone had done that to him: someone had killed him, and Marc-André was suddenly very glad Kris had died in 1927, or he would be in jail for murder himself soon.

“Hi,” Marc-André said. He was starting to get used to the cold, he thought, although that was probably one of the signs of hypothermia. The chain on the handcuffs split under Kris' hand.

It was warm again, so warm, and Kris was Kris, thank god, his perfect face once again perfectly restored.

Kris’ fingertips brushed down his cheek, a rare moment of solidity, and Marc-André leaned into the touch.

Sid was still visibly shaken up. He had never done well with carnage or blood; he hated that kind of thing, and Kris had had it in spades.

Giroux was doing slightly better, possibly because he had something to do with himself. The cops had come squealing down the road ten minutes after Giroux had found a payphone, loud with lights and sirens and crime scene tape.

The two men were still alive, if only barely. They were going to the hospital with Tanya, and in far worse shape.

Marc-André was sitting on the back of an ambulance wrapped in a crinkly hypothermia blanket, next to Sid. Kris was standing beside Giroux, talking to him about — something. Marc-André narrowed his eyes at them.

Kris looked up. One of his eyebrows quirked, and Marc-André watched him smile the same old smile, all white teeth and promise. Marc-André smiled back.

When Marc-André turned back to Sid, Sid was staring, leaning back and away.

“What?” Marc-André said warily.

“Nothing,” Sid said. “Uh. Is that what he always looks like?”

“Oh,” Marc-André said, “no. God, no,” and Sid let out a sigh.

“Sorry,” Sid said.

“Why are you sorry?” Marc-André said. “That was basically hell, but cold.”

Kris’ destroyed body would be with him for a long time.

“He saved our lives,” Sid said, as fussy as he’d ever been. “I don’t want to be ungrateful.” Kris turned away from Giroux and started walking toward them.

“He normally looks like a person,” Marc-André said. “Don’t worry.”

“What’s that?” Kris asked.

“You,” Marc-André replied. “We’re talking about how you look.”

“Oh,” Kris said. “And?” Sid blinked, looking rapidly between Marc-André and the space where Kris was standing.

“You look good,” Marc-André said in French, grinning, and now Kris was the one with the gobsmacked look on his face.

“I’ll just,” Sid said, “uh, excuse me,” and got up.

Kris was back in his T-shirt, white and clean. His jeans were unmarked, and his hair was falling in front of his ears like always.

He put his hands in his pockets and looked down.

“Are you okay?” Marc-André asked. Kris hadn’t seemed all that bothered by whatever the fuck that had been, but then how the hell Marc-André would have been able to tell was beyond him.

“Yeah,” Kris said. “I, uh.” He shook his head and looked up. “I’m fine.”

“You sound not okay,” Marc-André said. “Did you hurt yourself?”

“No,” Kris said firmly, meeting his eyes, and Marc-André had no idea what to do with the look on his face.

“Well, you didn’t hurt me,” Marc-André said. “You didn’t hurt anything but Sid’s stomach, and you literally saved Tanya’s life, so we’re all fine.”

“You left out Giroux,” Kris said with the shadow of a smile.

“Nobody cares about him,” Marc-André said. “You’re not allowed to include him in this.”

Kris hopped up onto the back of the ambulance and settled himself where Sid had been. “He just sincerely thanked me for saving his life,” Kris said. “I think it might be appropriate to include him in this.”

“Of course he did; it doesn’t matter. Didn’t you hate him yesterday?” Marc-André said, fighting a frisson of concern. Kris twisted to look at him, close in his old discomfiting way, fizzing gently against Marc-André’s nerves.

Marc-André needed to find more French Canadians for Kris to talk to. Could Kris get on a plane? Maybe they could go to Québec for a weekend.

“Are you jealous?” Kris said, his voice wicked and slow, and Marc-André frowned at him.

“I just think you deserve better friends,” Marc-André said, replete with dignity. He straightened his hypothermia blanket.

“I do,” Kris agreed easily. “I’m not friends with him.”

“Good,” Marc-André said stupidly.

He hadn’t ever thought about losing Kris; he hadn’t ever really thought of Kris as killed, despite his being very clearly dead. He’d never thought of what had to have happened to make Kris like this, and he’d never thought he’d have to see it.

“Were you able to talk to people in Montréal?” Marc-André asked in a moderately pathetic bid to change the subject.

“Sometimes,” Kris said, blessedly taking the bait. “More than here, but not usually.”

His profile was — it was pure relief, Marc-André thought. It was a weight off his heart, to see him put back together.

His eyes were even and clear in the light of the setting sun, and maybe Marc-André would admit to himself that his relief was a little less pure than all that.

“Do you ever think about going back there?” Marc-André asked. “Back home?”

“Do you?” Kris countered, his voice tense with something Marc-André could only hope for. For a man who didn’t draw breath, he looked — well.

He was close enough for Marc-André to feel the static on the skin of his own cheeks, close enough to feel the low-voltage energy of him through the foil of the hypothermia blanket.

“If you want to,” Marc-André said softly, “I would.”

Kris’ tongue darted out over his lower lip and back; Marc-André couldn’t reasonably be expected to ever look anywhere else.

“Can I?” Marc-André asked, dragging his eyes up to meet Kris’, more logistics than permission, more practicality than he ever thought he’d have to put into that question.

Kris’ eyes widened, and oh, had he thought Marc-André wouldn’t — wouldn’t want this, wouldn’t ask?

Marc-André leaned forward as slowly as he could manage, a glacial drift through the air, and by the time his lips met Kris’, Kris was solid enough to take Marc-André’s breath away. It was like holding his hand just above a hot pan; Kris was there and not there, terrifically, immensely present even though his mouth was barely a hint of pressure against Marc-André’s lips. It felt like kissing lightning, like kissing the change in the air before a storm.

Kris was slowly blinking his eyes open when Marc-André pulled away, stunned and beautiful like something out of a Disney movie.

“Thank you,” Marc-André said. Kris’ brows drew together; he still looked charmingly dazed.

“For what?” he said.

“You did just save my life,” Marc-André said. “Maybe you forgot. Is this all it takes?”

“Shut up,” Kris said, clearly struggling, and Marc-André’s heart did something stupid. “I’m, uh,” Kris started, then stopped completely as Marc-André reached out to trail his fingers up the crackling length of his bare arm.

It was weird, he thought, overwhelmingly pleased with the look on Kris’ face. It was beyond weird, and he could really get used to this.

“Let’s go?” Marc-André said. “Unless you want to hang out with the cops some more. I think Bellemare’s from France, you could try that out.”

Kris’ T-shirt was a slightly different non-texture than his arm, and Kris’ lashes fanned out over his cheekbones when Marc-André touched his face.

“Let’s go,” Kris said, soft and hoarse. Good god, Marc-André thought.

“Do you think I can get this ambulance to start?” Marc-André asked. Kris’ eyes popped open right before he smiled his murder smile, his you’ll get what’s coming for you smile.

“Can you drive it once you do?” Kris asked, and Marc-André was really looking forward to whatever it was that he had in store.