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Outside Under Broken Leaves

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Outside Under Broken Leaves

Sometimes the sky's too bright,
Or has too many clouds or birds,
And far away's too sharp a sun
To nourish thinking of him.
Why is my hand too blunt
To cut in front of me
My horrid images for me,
Of over-fruitful smiles,
The weightless touching of the lip
I wish to know
I cannot lift, but can,
The creature with the angel's face
Who tells me hurt,
And sees my body go
Down into misery?
No stopping. Put the smile
Where tears have come to dry.
The angel's hurt is left;
His telling burns.

Sometimes a woman's heart has salt,
Or too much blood;
I tear her breast,
And see the blood is mine,
Flowing from her, but mine,
And then I think
Perhaps the sky's too bright;
And watch my hand,
But do not follow it,
And feel the pain it gives,
But do not ache.

-- Dylan Thomas.


Prologue: April, now.

The man standing at the hotel window looked out at the early dawn light as it transformed the stone patina of Rome's old stones from bleakest, dullest grey into glowing dark gold. He stared at the skyline as the pink lightened and thinned to the merest line, and shaded into palest duck-egg blue, until that began to bleach with the sun and whiten to the merest washed hint of diluted azure, like a watercolour smudge of an artist's conveyance behind the roofs and walls of the Eternal City.

The sky had been seen, if not perhaps from this precise window, for hundreds and thousands of years, doing just that, lightening the same stones, enriching the same aged immutability. The very fundaments of years on which the city rested carried within it the old warning to those who triumphed.

Remember, you too are mortal.

The man at the window had remembered. He had always remembered. His every skill came from his continual vigilance that ensured he never, for a single second, forgot, that he never slipped in his persona here in the heart of all that he was not, that he remembered his mortality and his vulnerability and made every step with deliberate precision. He had eaten and breathed and drunk Hans Keller, his every pore had exuded Hans's corruption, and he had always remembered, sometimes with a kind of screaming relief, that he was mortal, for to remember it meant that he was not Hans Keller after all.

But he had forgotten those who had placed themselves in the unwanted role of warning voice. He had forgotten the press.

He had forgotten Armand du Plessis, and now he stood in the wreckage of three months' personal effort and a year of careful planning before that, because 'remember you are mortal' had been replaced with 'the public's right to know', and it was no pedestal of adoration from which he would topple, but the exposure of the fact that he was not the corrupt man he had so carefully appeared to be.

He stood to lose more lives than he could possibly save, never mind his own, and all because of one man's ultimatum.

Reveal your identity or we run the story as is.

The front page mock-ups sat on his table, demanding a decision that was not really a choice at all.

Prostitute Rings Uncovered.

He could choose that, and preserve everything he had been working for. He could choose that, and keep living the lie that had been given to him to inhabit. He could choose that – and each and every one of those girls that the headline hinted at, even those who only had their poor nameless shadows of existences, would die, and the ringleaders who had given the paper its threatened headline would vanish. The same way Agent d'Herblay's two men had vanished, two weeks before, and nowhere to be found until they were past all help.

But unlike those men, the ringleaders would not wash up on the banks of the Tiber, nor would there be gaping, blood-emptied knife wounds in their sides. They would change their names, change their lives, and start again. And all of it would be for nothing.

But if he picked up the phone...

If he picked up the phone, impossible, terrible thought though it was -

Then at least the girls would live, even if the entire operation failed.

Invisible Worm: Inside Man.

The other option. The honourable option.

And the failure of everything he had been working for.

It would be the end of his assignment and his employment and his reputation; it would be the end of his anonymity and quite possibly the end of his life, and it would certainly be the end of everything he had ever believed in or striven to uphold no matter what the cost might be, but the girls would live.

The girls would live.

It wasn't even a choice.

René d'Herblay, the man who had been known for the last four months to most of Rome's careful, frighteningly efficient underworld as Hans Keller, closed his eyes to the rising sun, and picked up his mobile, weighing it in his hand as though it were a hand grenade he was ready to toss.

Will you forgive me? he wondered, and it was not his superiors of whom he thought, but rather one man whose opinion he valued above all, one man for whom he would have given all this up without a thought or qualm.

It was that knowledge, selfish and burning and sure, that decided him. If he would give up the world for love, then by Christ! he would and should count it well lost for the lives of those long since condemned to the world's oubliette. He was not the callous, amoral, immoral, almost evil man he had pretended to be, no matter how well he had played the part over this unendurable spring, no more than he was the man who would appear in the papers.

He could not change either fact, not who he was, nor who they would make him seem.

Cucullus non facit monachum…

"I wear the cowl," he said quietly to the old city. "I am not the monk."

I am not the monk. I am not Hans Keller, and I am not the monk of the story, nor even of my own. I am no former Russian with a German name and a grudge, seeking to make profit from the bodies of young girls. I am René d'Herblay, soon to be formerly of the Interior, and I – am going home.

Then he dialled a single number, and waited.

"Yes," he said to the voice on the other end when it replied, no nerves showing in the urbane tones that he had come to hate over the last few days. "Run the alternative. Head it with my name."

Ave Caesar... he thought, and stifled a hard little laugh that threatened to escape him. That laugh belonged to Hans, not to him.

"Well. A man of principle." Du Plessis's voice was mocking.

"A man of sense only," René replied dryly, hoping his sardonic detachment was as irritating to du Plessis as the man's very greeting was to him, and switched the phone off.

...morituri te salutans.

He seemed to hear the mob already.

Oh we, who wished to lay the foundations for peace and friendliness…

"We stood no chance," he whispered to the dawn, closing his eyes in something that was not quite prayer, and yet was too close to it be anything else, despite all its unhappy, distressed hopelessness. His hand flickered towards the closed phone, wanting to warn those who cared for him, and knowing he could not, knowing that only one call remained to him on that number before it was traced, and that he would have to use it well, have to call the Prefect of his department so that he could call the Minister of the Interior and let him know what René had decided, so that he could warn the man about the press storm that would explode and assure him that René was going to take it all on his own shoulders.

He would have to make a public statement, and the least of that would be his resignation and the best he could hope for at the end of it was not being someone's next target.

But I will make it with dignity, he vowed. They will never know the personal cost was what paid for their paltry little rights. They will never know of my choice here and now, or why I am making it, how every second I stand here and delay, I am making it. No-one will never know what this is costing me at this second, nor will ever know in future. No-one I –

He broke his thoughts off there, for he would have to let his superior, who had trusted him so much and who had believed him to be right for the job, know how he had failed him and his country and the operation itself. "And nor did I know," he whispered, as the sun rose and the glow of it grew less rose-and-gold-tinged and began to lift into the deepening blue of the sky, the moment of paused history gone as though it had never been, leaving behind a city of layered ruins. "Oh God. Nor did I know what it would have to be. I stood no chance at all, not even at the very start…"



The longest journey a man must take is the eighteen inches from his head to his heart
- Unknown.


March, one year before.

The March sunlight was doing nothing for the offices of the Interior. It was entirely possible that all money for glare-proof glass or indeed operating blinds or screens had gone to the Place Beauvau, and as such, there was a sense of accumulated and aggrieved suffering that was not leading to anything that remotely resembled productivity.

"Are you quite sure," the Minister of the Interior asked, "that we have in fact collected people here who are capable of dealing with, rather than providing security risks?" He peered out through the only blinds in the place to the main room, where a great deal of animated discussion was taking place. Sadly, the little office of the area's Prefect was not soundproofed, and the content of the discussion, being focused around the best provider of modifiable shoes, was clearly audible through the thin dividing wall.

The Prefect chuckled darkly, "It's a bit different than when we were out on the streets. There are many more 'toys' for them than we ever thought of having, James Bond notwithstanding."

The Minister gave him a rather odd look. Considering the actual debate was centred around the need to modify elegance in order to apply comfort and retain the original look, it was probably well-deserved. Not that things hadn't moved on from 'put in a foam cut-out and hope for the best', but still, it was hardly a viewpoint on state-of-the-art, unavailable to the public, expert-rated technology.

"Toys," he murmured. "Yes, quite." One man swung a beautifully shod foot up onto a desk in demonstration of his point, and had it smacked off with some force by the desk's owner, who appeared to be the only one even pretending to do some work.

"My desk, feet off," he said from behind his screen in crisp tones. "And if one more person interrupts me in the next half hour, I will remove the need for any type of footwear other than fluffy slippers for the next two weeks."

The prefect chuckled again, "D'Herblay… He'll get them in line, that's why he's the one I have doing this. He and de la Fère are one of my best teams."

The Minister raised his eyebrows - only slightly, but enough to convey a reference to his earlier remark about security risks. The Prefect stifled a sigh. No matter what results came back, no matter what skills were demonstrated, his best - and, he could admit it to himself, not very secretly-preferred - team would be forever labelled with the fulminating description provided by a particularly disgruntled Interpol agent.

The queer and the rich bitch.

It had the doubtful merit of being utterly accurate and absolutely irrelevant at once.

The internal phone rang, saving him from the inevitable, careful, war of words that he was about to embark on, and he snatched it up without apology.


"Red light on the Minister's head," d'Herblay said contentedly in his ear. "Have a look."

The Prefect actually wanted to close his eyes in grim horror, but instead he looked at the tiny glow in the centre of the Minister's forehead, and stifled a moan.

"Oh yes," he said feebly.

"Shall we continue?"

The Prefect sighed, "May as well. Do you think she'll get out as cleanly as she got in?"

"Not a doubt, sir."

"Continue then." The Prefect turned back to the Minister. "If you wouldn't mind, sir. Bang, you're dead."

"I'm--?" He blinked for a moment. "Oh, right."

The Minister slumped forward over the desk, just as the glass at the front of the office shattered in a rather spectacular rain.

"I'm so very, very tempted to take that out of your salary!" the Prefect shouted into his now incredibly open-plan office. D'Herblay's neat blond head appeared around his monitor, the slight cat-in-a-fishery smile visible even across distance and through the March glare. His eyes were crinkled into faint lines of amusement behind their plain-framed glasses, little glints of blue behind the reflective curves of the slightly tinted glass.

"Might I beg for a resurrection?" the Minister enquired in muffled and slightly paper-stuffed tones. "This is not terribly comfortable."

He didn't look it, either.

"Certainly, sir… just making a point after all." The Prefect turned back to the office. "Do you see that? This was just an exercise but that makes it all the worse to see how you let me down. The Minister's just been shot while the lot of you stood around talking about – think about it, ladies and gentlemen, think about it carefully - your damn feet! This is unacceptable! Let's see if you can do any better during the clean up. Get off your asses, children, and see if you can track down the shooter. He must still be in the building, right?"

There was a mad scurrying. "And don't forget it's an exercise! I don't want anyone killed as an additional mistake!"

"You take all the fun out of it," complained a disembodied voice from a vent in the ceiling. There was a stifled sneeze. "Does anyone else think it's damned stupid having dirty air filters, by the way?"

"Perhaps we could discuss cleaning protocol after your successful getaway?" asked the Prefect, and silence followed. "D'Herblay, tell me, please tell me, that she's not in the air vents..."

"Hmm?" René came over to the shattered window, and peered in at them. "Oh. No. No, she wouldn't fit up there. That's just the microphone we put there earlier."

The Prefect looked down at the floor and then back up at René, "And was all this…mess…really necessary?"

René laughed, and another, higher pitched voice echoed him back through the air vent speaker, a kind of Doppler effect of amusement that made the short hairs on the Prefect's arms crawl a little. "No, sir, not strictly speaking. But it did get their attention."

"And made an end to the shoe conversation," the Minister said rather dryly, smoothing his hair back. René smiled politely.

"Yes, sir," he agreed blandly. The Prefect tried not to wince. It wasn't that d'Herblay was rude. He was just - guaranteed to infuriate, on any given occasion, particularly when faced with implicit disapproval.

"And do you think this was really a fair test?" the Minister continued, looking between the Prefect and René. "It was your partner that was posing as the shooter; it would be easy for her to simply walk in."

"Well, yes sir, technically, but she was in disguise - and even if she had been recognized, she should have been questioned about the items she was carrying." René looked down at the crumbled safety glass, utterly unsmiling despite his spectacular display of potential devastation, which was just as well, given as the Prefect thought he might have been tempted to wreak a little personal havoc of his own if the man's mouth had so much as twitched. "I even rigged the window in full view and no one questioned me."

"And yet, the degree of serendipity necessary for this to work -"

"Oh no," René said smoothly. "You'll find there will need to be some...let us say…removal work taking place. In most offices. This was planned to occur at whichever of your three potential appointments you decided to keep this morning. Although it was obviously less time-consuming to explain to our own Prefect what was going to take place than it would have been to one of the others." He paused, a small line appearing between his brows. "I think."

The Prefect smiled like a Buddha. "You believe," he murmured in serene and irresistible contradiction.

René lifted his hand, and passed a quick fingertip over his faint frown, erasing it as though he were applying concealer. "Yes, of course," he said with a good attempt at appearing conciliatory.

"I'm out," a smooth voice interrupted them from above.

"Already?" The Prefect scowled at the ceiling. "Tell me that it was at least…difficult."

"Oh, yes, sir…very." Claire's voice sounded flat and noncommittal, but somehow it wasn't possible to attribute all of that to the microphone.

The Minister glared upwards suspiciously, before turning the look on his Prefect. "I think," he said flatly, "that we need to revise our discussion. Thoroughly. Can I assume my car, at least, is safe?"

The Prefect, who had absolutely no idea, looked rather helplessly at René, who nodded slightly. Since he had no idea whether to believe him or not, he was reduced to the game of blind trust, which had always proved to be remarkably unprofitable in the past, and which he found difficult to accept was going to pay off this time.

"Of course," he said with a firmness he in no way felt, looking past d'Herblay at the door to the outer office hopefully, and wondering if the things he prayed for in his life were in fact more akin to blasphemy, even when, as in this case, they were answered.

Claire de la Fère, neatly attired in a suit, and with no suspicious accessories other than a blue folder, came quietly in and sat down at René's desk.

"Disabling," came the voice from the ceiling, and a faint click came simultaneously from overhead and from the Prefect's phone.

"I'll be in your office first thing tomorrow morning, sir," The Prefect hurried the Minister toward the elevator as quickly as he could manage and sent him on his way down before he turned back to his two agents. "You tapped my phone?"

Of course they had…what a ridiculous question, "Anything else I should know about?"

"Probably," René said slowly, "but then again, you might want to ask yourself if you want to know about them first."

Claire stifled another sneeze. The Prefect would have given a great deal to be certain that it wasn't a disguise for hidden laughter.

He slumped into his chair, not bothering to disguise his weariness and exasperation with the whole wasteful exercise. Man hours, equipment, all to be paid for to prove a point that should not have even needed to be made in the first place. "Well, I suppose the good news is that the Minister will be more apt to agree that cuts in our training budget for the rest of the staff are not a good idea. Either that or he'll decide the two of you are public enemies and want you locked up for the good of the country."

"Or both," Claire volunteered, far too cheerfully. René, at least, had the grace to look vaguely embarrassed, even though he was smiling a little. "Look on the bright side. We can test prison security."

The Prefect wondered if his expression was closer to 'I want to murder you now' or 'please excuse me while I bang my head on the desk', but either way it caused d'Herblay to speak up.

"We just did as you asked, sir. You didn't give us any limitations."

That, apparently, had been his first mistake.

"I thought common sense would prove a good curb," he said wearily, "but obviously I was wrong. Just -" He waved a hand at the incipient chaos that he was absolutely sure was out there waiting for him, and finished up with what even he knew was transparent ineffectuality - "go and make sure nothing else blows up. Or sets off little red lights. Or ends up on anyone's computer. Please."

He scooted his chair closer to his desk, hearing the crunch of glass under its wheels, "And get someone from maintenance to clean up this mess."

"I'll make it a priority," René said, and then with malice very obviously aforethought, "are you sure you can trust maintenance? I'd be happy to oversee -"

"Don't push your luck," the Prefect said through his teeth.


It had really taken them very little time to put everything to rights, mostly because, aside from the microphone, a couple of bugs and lights, and a few wires, there really wasn't much to it. 'Smoke and mirrors', Claire had said, and really that was a lot of what they had used.

Not that they couldn't have pulled off more than a facsimile of an assassination attempt, if they'd wanted to, but René's deep-seated conviction that exposing the full extent of one's abilities was never a good idea, combined with Claire's love of layered subterfuge, had led to a rather more fake attempt than the effect they had so carefully created.

"I bet we get sent to work somewhere really horrible, just to show we're not all that and a bag of chips," René said gloomily, disconnecting the spyware from his computer with a faint sigh at the waste.

"Well, you maybe," Claire gave a ladylike sniff, then smiled at him. "They would never send me away for any length of time."

She seemed so convinced of this that René chuckled back at her, shrugging on his coat. "Hopefully your good odour will extend to me. Off home then?"

Claire gave him an odd look. "No," she said in tones reserved for the very young or the irredeemably feeble-minded, "I'm going out to an S&M club - yes, obviously home, like a normal person, where I'm holding a small drinks party to celebrate the fact Olivier's finally out of his Sûreté training and has officially got something we can all call a job."

"Ah," René said mildly. He didn't pretend to question Claire's relationship with her husband. Since it had survived tours of duty, Olivier leaving the Army, Olivier going back to university and studying law, and Olivier's reluctance to actually become a lawyer despite offers from reputable law firms, he assumed it had a very solid grounding in whatever 'normal people' like them called love and support. The fact that Claire's tones never seemed to even approach that when she talked about him was a mystery he put down to her addiction to cover-ups, and assumed that she simply wanted him to have no part in that side of her personality or her life.

"You should come," Claire continued suddenly, a kittenish smile on her face. "Really. Olivier is always asking about my partner. And now with him working at the Sûreté and all, perhaps it's time to satisfy his curiosity."

"Yes, dare I ask what you've been telling him to make him curious in the first place?" René asked warily. Anything too close to a change in what had become their routine made him cagey - a shift in what constituted their private lives most of all. He knew that most of the blame for that could be placed squarely at his feet, since he would rather have chewed on rusty nails than have what most people would term a personal life, but at the same time, he worked with Claire, he knew too much for his own ease about how her mind worked, and there was no way that he could see this as an invitation to anything but one person or more's social embarrassment - definitely excluding Claire from the potential equation of misery.

"Oh, please, this is Olivier we're discussing." She handed him her own coat and allowed him to help her put it on. "Olivier is fascinated by everything I do. It's part of his role as attentive spouse."

And just like that, the terrible curiosity that René had spent all his life learning to control, the blaze of needing to know that he had channelled into study and the Interior and knowledge about everything he could lay his hands on that didn't involve actually getting to know people was swirling up in him, driving him towards an agreement he should never even think of making, and the worst thing was that Claire knew it. She knew how it would be because she knew him, knew he never believed her glib assessments, had to probe and delve and prove something more existed - and with two words that they both knew to be nothing like reality –

attentive spouse -

she had hooked him, caught him, reeled him in before he even opened his mouth to speak, before his hands had finished their quick smoothing of her coat's shoulders.

"What time?" he asked, and his voice was as steady as his light fingers, nothing there to give him away, and yet he had probably revealed everything in the little question, just as she had shown her game with how easily she had played him.

There were reasons people thought their partnership was too close, too symbiotic, unhealthy for them and the Interior both, but this was the only one that touched René in the cold clear heart of him, the invisible worm in the rose of his life. For all his professionalism and his skills, and for all her evasion and quick wit, they knew each other as people knew their own reflection, with the half-warped precision of the Snow Queen's mirror shards.

If Claire could play him, then there was something to be played, something in him or her that had set their dance out of step and tune.

Still, though, he could not resist it.

"You'll come? Lovely. Say… nineish?" Claire pulled her bag out of her drawer and looked inside for her keys. "It's all very casual, really. Just a few people and friends."

René wondered briefly if he fit under 'people' or 'friends'. It was difficult to be sure with Claire, since she seemed to treat everyone with the same air of negligence.

He was, he inwardly admitted, far more comfortable than was quite right with the thought that it was most probably 'people'.

"So is that casual as in ostentatiously so, or as in a misplaced attempt at comfort?" he asked in his most gently interested voice.

"Casual as in, getting Olivier into a suit after work hours is a trial I rarely force onto myself." She pulled her keys out of her purse with a triumphant flourish. "Do come, René. Don't be a stick. Leaving your house of an evening to do something that qualifies as a social occasion won't kill you."

"You do like me to ignore all my real talents, don't you?" René asked with an asperity that was not entirely feigned. "Yes, yes, I'll come. I'll even relinquish my own dress sense, just to fit in. And you'll have the exquisite pleasure of knowing that in some undefined way, at a date of collection to be left undetermined, you will owe me."

"I owe a lot of people, darling… but no one ever tries to collect." She gave him an over-bright smile and sashayed out towards the elevator, leaving the doors swinging in her wake.

I think I may have just made a grave error.

René sighed, and started readying excuses for an early escape.


Contrary to popular assumption, the reason René lived alone and rarely, if ever, invited anyone to his house for so much as a cup of coffee had nothing to do with some wonderfully sybaritic lifestyle that he wanted kept out of the public eye. It was because he hated anyone, anyone at all, up to and including delivery people, in what he had come to think of as his only sanctuary. He did not want commentary on how he liked things organised, he did not want his music system – three connected players that put his music through the entire house and were overridden by whichever one he was operating at the time – commented upon, he did not want his kitchen invaded or his cooking sampled, and he most especially did not want anything in his surroundings that hinted of another presence that was not strictly his own.

He often thought that less definite feelings on the matter might have prevented his early and disastrous string of one-night-stands when he arrived in Paris, and recognised, with equal honesty, that his insistence on always keeping things relatively anonymous and entirely centred around the other person had saved him from a relationship which he was woefully ill-equipped to handle then, and was even more so now.

Emotional complications and complexities were things he was quite happy to keep at a remove – and read about, watch in a rare film, or hear in an opera. He wanted them to have nothing to do with reality.

His life might be solitary, but he honestly had little time to feel lonely. His job took up a great deal of his time and what that did not fill was made relaxing with his music and his books and some correspondence with a few people he knew from academic circles. His home life was peaceful and serene in contrast to his work environment, and just the way he liked it.

Or so he told himself.

He was more comfortable in a ratty jumper and jeans or a faded t-shirt that he suspected had actually belonged to a university flatmate than he was in the suits he so neatly affected for work - even when he had been undercover with Claire, playing the part of a perfect slob, he had feigned discomfort at the more casual attire, playing up to the image he wanted to present, and never show any private part of himself, even if it would have bolstered his reputation as the consummate actor. Better to play a small price, that they thought he had to work at his skills, than the greater one of self-revelation.

What he thought of as casual was not something he would ever expose to public view – even one as select as that Claire probably had in mind. He chose a shirt and jacket to go with his jeans, heavy enough not to need a coat, layered enough to get away with wearing the jacket or not indoors, depending on just how much armour he felt in need of.

It was with some misgivings that he picked up the decidedly mid-range bottle of wine from the table, and left his official gun behind in the locked cupboard. The one he kept in the glove compartment and the smaller one in his ankle holster he felt no need to either declare or discard, even for a party at his always well-equipped partner's house.

Judging from the vehicles parked in the drive and the noise that was emanating from Claire's home when he arrived a short time later, her idea of 'a few people and friends', exceeded his by the fourth power. The art nouveau building was practically shimmering with the force of conversation and competing egos from within, and he looked up at the stark glass-and-metal elegance of it with a faint grimace before he made his way up the drive. Considering his love of clean lines and general lack of clutter, along with his preference for all things even vaguely related to the Jazz Age, it always surprised him how much he disliked the building – whether empty or occupied. While part of him was interested to note that his opinion did not change even when it was filled with noise and light, he was mildly concerned at how deeply his aversion seemed to run. It was unlike him to feel so strongly about something inanimate, especially something that seemed, on the surface, to cater almost precisely to what he would have assumed to be his preferences.

Perhaps, he thought, I am sickening from surfeit.

The thought made him choke back a laugh, the ludicrity of even the concept that he might become wearied by excellence catching at his sense of humour, even while he quickly stifled it beneath the polite veneer he had assumed for the evening, before someone could catch him displaying any emotion other than urbane and distant interest.

He knocked sharply on the door, almost hoping it was too noisy inside for anyone to hear. Then he could just say he'd been there and, 'oh, it was such a crush that you must have missed me'. Unfortunately, the door opened almost immediately.

"You're here for the party?" demanded the large man at the door, and René sighed, resisting his initial impulse to say 'no, I'm the local tramp and this is my donation to the noise pollution for the evening,' and instead mustering his nicest smile.

"Yes," he agreed obligingly. "But I was expecting something...smaller."

"Hah!" It was a shout of laughter, accompanied by a hand-clap to his shoulder that made René lose his smile in favour of a wince. "It was. Then there was me. I'm Isa." He took the bottle of wine from René, and raised his eyebrows. "Small and middle-class expectations, then?" he said, not losing his friendliness for an instant. "Can't be one of Claire's lot, then."

"Actually, I'm her partner," René said a bit tightly.

"My condolences," the man clapped his shoulder again and René briefly wondered how many bruises he'd sport the next day. "Claire! Your partner's here!"

"Really, Isa - let the man in." A smoother, quieter voice, most definitely not Claire, spoke from behind him.

"But what would be the point of having a doorman if he let people in?" Isa asked, sounding horrendously disappointed, before sighing exaggeratedly and stepping to the side.

"Well, that would be why I don't have a doorman, wouldn't it?" said the invisible speaker, sounding like a month of headache waiting to take hold. "And you're on my foot. Off."

Isa laughed and danced to the side in a remarkable display of agility for one so large, "Sorry."

"Yes, well, you always are." The face that René now saw was roughly handsome, faintly sallowed by a long-faded tan that came from exposure to a sun far hotter and brighter than anything Europe could provide, with smile lines at the corners of the warm hazel eyes. The man held out his hand, "Hello, I'm Olivier. You must be René? Assuming Isa got it right…"

René's eyebrows shot up, even as he shook the offered hand. "Yes. René d'Herblay, and - I'm sorry." He looked over at Isa. "I must have misheard. He gets things right? He doesn't just randomly turn up and break people for a living?" He thought rather ruefully that he usually had better control over his innate desire for sarcasm, but then control had left the whole evening some time ago. Possibly three days before it started.

"Hey," Isa protested, but Olivier just laughed.

"Serves you right, you great lump. Now move or make yourself useful and bring the man a drink." Olivier stepped aside, inviting René to enter.

"But I might break it," Isa said plaintively, and no-one, no-one, who could legitimately claim to be over the age of six, should have been able to pout like that. René blinked. Olivier snorted.

"Yes, everyone else got their issue weapons this morning. We left Isa as is."

"I can believe that," René said, rubbing his shoulder. "I take it he works with you, then?"

Yes, well, that wasn't at all awkward, was it? René hated small talk, mostly because, in the general course of things, he wasn't very good at it - at least not when he was acting as himself, and it seemed that, for this evening at least, he was doomed to do just that.

"More or less. We were in training together, and now we're both under de Treville. Claire did tell you what this little get together was for, didn't she?"

René's brain chose that unheard of and impossible and incredibly inconvenient moment to shut down completely on everything save the actual words Claire had used –

I'm holding a small drinks party to celebrate the fact Olivier's finally out of his Sûreté training and has officially got something we can all call a job -

and really, this, this particular moment, happening to him, was why he hated going out. "She didn't mention the....attendant perks," he managed eventually, and hoped to God that Olivier didn't take that personally, or badly, or read any of the numerous terrible implications into it that René could now hear like an automated map-reader.

But, fortunately, Olivier just laughed, "Yes, I can imagine. She would have much preferred me to have settled into a nice, calm, money-making, law practice. Someplace where I could wear over-priced suits and be bored out of my mind. But she's accepted that I'm not going to do that…..I hope. I've finished training for the Sûreté, as has Isa, thanks to Captain de Treville."

René looked over at Isa, who seemed more like a walking embodiment of a liability than any sort of advertisement for law enforcement, and was confronted with the undeniable fact of his t-shirt clad back. It read 'Yes, I am hung like a donkey, thank you for asking.'

"It's on the back so a jacket covers it. A one-off for the formalities today," Olivier said. "Usually they have pictures, too. In case there's a chance of not understanding." He was grinning.

"I will pay you for that drink," René said fervently. It seemed the only possible response.

Olivier slapped his shoulder, the same one that Isa had bruised, of course, and drew him toward the bar.


There was something almost indecent, René was to think later, about the way Olivier looked at Claire, about his preternatural awareness of where she was, what her real mood was, about the too-naked love in his eyes when she was near. Uncomfortable with any displays of emotion, let alone the hints of a man's soul stripped and exposed, he was more at ease even with Isa's blatant displays of affection towards his pretty, blunt girlfriend than he was with the expression on Olivier's face when his wife was near. It made him think, vaguely and unsettlingly, of Crusaders and fanatics and the True Cross.

It also made him wonder what it might feel like to be on the receiving end of such intense feeling. Claire seemed barely to notice it, or when she did, took it as only her due. Maybe that was the true key to their marriage, then. Claire wanted to be desired and worshipped, and Olivier seemed happy to give her exactly that.

If that is the key to success in a relationship, he thought wryly, I shouldn't be surprised mine last no longer than a week. Not only had he no idea what it was like to have that kind of intensity directed at him, he had never felt it for anything or anyone. Not his job, not his family, not - anything. He had, in fact, not really known what love was until he saw it in the middle of a party he didn't want to be attending, in the eyes of a man he scarcely knew.

It was a most unpleasant understanding, not least because he was unprepared for it.

"Oh, love is the crooked thing, there is nobody wise enough - to find out all that is in it," René mumbled under his breath.

"Yeats…" Olivier answered him back, "For he would be thinking of love, till the stars had run away - and the shadows eaten the moon."

René turned his head so fast and hard that he heard something crack, painfully, in his neck. Olivier was looking at Claire, who, all unaware and yet utterly confident of his steady regard, was talking to someone on the other side of the room, and René knew that he had only registered the words in some fringe place of his awareness, calling out an automatic response rather than an answer.

And yet, even as René watched, Olivier gave himself a shake as if awakening from a dream, and spoke directly to him, "I find I am quite remiss as a host. Can I get you a refill, René?"

Although Olivier seemed more aware, the words were almost as automatic as his completion of the verse.

"Yes," René said, and wondered why he was here, why Olivier had wanted to meet him, why now -

and then the obvious finally occurred to him, the idiotically, glaringly obvious. Claire. It wasn't about him; it was about the woman they were watching, the woman all the men in the room, whether they were aware of it or not, were watching…

You need but lift a pearl-pale hand,
And bind up your long hair and sigh;
And all men's hearts must burn and beat…

- but not his. Never his. He was the one man who was utterly and entirely safe with Claire, with Olivier's idea and ideal of Claire, the Parsifal to her Holy Grail.

…the queer and the rich bitch…

He wondered if Olivier had worked out the reason behind his safety with Claire, no matter how close their proximity was or how much closer it had to be on occasion, and was immediately ashamed of even wondering, since he got the impression that whether he had worked it out or not, it would make no difference to his response.

"Well," he said as Olivier turned away to light a cigarette. "So, are you sure now?"

Olivier did them both the courtesy of neither laughing it away, nor pretending he hadn't understood. To anyone else in the room, they would have seemed nonsensical, drunk beyond all comprehension, but René already knew he could trust Olivier, in this one matter at least, with the rare coin of his honesty.

"Yes," Olivier said simply, the word as soft as the exhalation of smoke that accompanied it, and René nodded.


He knew it was a conversation they would never have again, or need to, and was intensely glad of it.

"Olivier! Haven't you got any crème de menthe?" It was Isa again, and René was grateful for his noisy interruption. "Lissa wants a grasshopper."

"Does Lissa want a grasshopper, or do you want to make her a grasshopper and then trick her into drinking it?" Olivier asked with the fluency of long experience. René had the feeling that any time at all spent around Isa probably turned into long experience.

"She told me to bring her something girly and pretty," Isa shrugged. "Green is pretty."

"I think you'd do better with a mai-tai, Isa. Hold on." Olivier glanced back at René. "Come on. We'll get your refill as well… just don't let Isa fix it."

"Oh," René said sweetly, "I wouldn't dream of it. Ever."

"Everyone is always so mean to me...." Isa said with fake sorrow.

"That's because you think green is pretty," René felt bound to point out.

"It is! Grass, leaves..."


Isa stopped, looking faintly nauseated. "Oh yeah. Right. Mai-tai, then."

Olivier fixed the drinks, setting René's down in front of him. "I was right, wasn't I? That was Yeats you were quoting earlier?"

René looked up sharply. Apparently Olivier had been paying closer attention than he had thought. "Yes… quite right."

"If you're going to be getting all intellectual, I'm going to take Lissa her drink," Isa chuckled. "Have fun."

"You mean Yeats isn't your idea of pure unbridled joy?" René tilted his head in mock surprise. "Good heavens."

Isa flipped him off without spilling a drop of either Lissa's gaudy concoction or his own beer, and wandered back towards the other room.

"Is Yeats anyone's idea of pure unbridled joy?" René asked conversationally.

"Probably not," Olivier chuckled, "But I do enjoy him…and quite a few other poets, much to the detriment of my macho reputation."

"Oh, you have one of those?" René asked, amused despite himself. Since he had spent most of his university years surrounded by either people trying to learn poetry to impress the object of their desire, or people who wanted to have poetry quoted at them in order to prove they were an object of desire, he found the concept of poetry ruining a reputation far too entertaining.

"Apparently." Olivier shrugged. "I'm ex-Special Forces. And now I'm working for the Sûreté. That, according to some, makes me big and dumb, kept around only for the virtue of being able to lift heavy things. You know… like Isa." Olivier's grin was mischievous as he pointed toward the door where Isa's booming laugh could be heard. "He's really much smarter than he'd like people to believe."

"Now, why don't I find that hard to believe?" René murmured with a small smile. "Ah. Yes. That would be because he couldn't possibly be down at the level he tries so hard to portray?"

"See? I keep telling him that, but does he listen?" Olivier looked across the room, a frown suddenly crossing his face. He picked up his drink – scotch on the rocks, if René remembered correctly – and dashed it down.

René followed his line of sight and saw Claire standing next to a tall, blonde man, his arm draped casually around her waist.

All Olivier could see was the gesture, the familiarity, his wife. All René saw was his partner, utterly in control and utterly disinterested, and playing her own game for her own reasons.

"A thought," he said quietly, picking a cube of ice out of his drink and putting it in front of his mouth so that even Claire wouldn't be able to read what he was saying, the gesture looking like a natural pause in his action as he spoke. "It's his arm, not hers. And she's quite capable of breaking it if he starts to annoy her. "

"I know," Olivier said. "That seldom makes it any easier though. Go on then… what type of poetry do you like?"

The change in subject was quite deliberate and almost jarring, but René understood the need, even if he didn't understand the man.

"German," he said, randomly. "Brecht." In fact, he didn't much care for most of it, but he guessed it was an odd enough choice to make the subject change complete.

"Er, he's a playwright." Olivier frowned. "Isn't he?"

"And a poet." René delivered that particular announcement with his best look of pure smugness. If Olivier wanted distraction, he would damn well get it.

"Really." The comment was said with quiet consideration. "I'll have to check that out. Can you give me something that's a particular favourite?"

The interest wasn't feigned, René was sure, even if Olivier was purposefully keeping his eyes lowered to where his glass sat on the top of the bar.

It had been years since René had even thought about Brecht, let alone taken the trouble to remember any translated poems of his, but, following Olivier's gaze down to the glass, there was one that came to his mind all entire, making him smile. He used the translation, just in case Olivier's German was not good enough to pick up on all of it, using the English words clearly and crisply, as they had taught him in his university days.

"Timur, I hear, took the trouble to conquer the earth.
I don't understand him.
With a bit of hard liquor you can forget the earth.

I'm not saying anything against Alexander,
Only I have seen people who were remarkable,
Highly deserving of your admiration
For the fact that they were alive at all.

Great men generate too much sweat.
In all of this I see just a proof that
They couldn't stand being on their own
And smoking and drinking and the like.
And they must be too mean-spirited to get
Contentment from sitting by a woman."

"Good job he's not saying anything against them," he concluded wryly. "I shudder to think of what he might have said if he were inclined to do so..."

"Even so." Olivier agreed and emptied his glass again. "Not much contentment there, as I am proof. He has a wit though. I'll have to look for more."

"I'll lend you my copy, if you want," René said, and then realised he had no idea where his copy was, or even if Olivier read German if he managed to find it, and bit the inside of his lip in annoyance. "Er - original or translation? Or there's some good English versions - he wrote in English as well, so they're easy enough to come by..." He trailed off, feeling utterly transparent.

But amazingly, Olivier was laughing now, "Thank you, for making a horrible host feel as if he is at least somewhat worth redeeming. I think I like you, René d'Herblay, very much. And not just because…. No, I do like you and you're welcome to come again, with or without Claire."

René arched one eyebrow, and gave him the best scandalised look he had ever produced, up to and including a rather insane moment undercover where he had been forced to turn down an extremely attractive version of the casting couch. "It's customary," he said in his driest voice, "to allow a man the chance to come once, before you get on to offering him the opportunity of a repeat performance."

He had the satisfaction of adding to his mental notes on Olivier de la Fère exactly what the man looked like when he swallowed an ice-cube.


The Criminal Division of the Paris office of the Sûreté was never what anyone would call a calm place. Even when there was nothing major brewing the 'normal' work load kept things in a constant state of flux – people coming and going, phones ringing, files piling up and threatening to spill their contents on the floor, coffee cups doing the same – in short, the term "Mad House" was often used as a nicely descriptive nickname. None of this was improved by the antics of its inmates.

"Kitty should bring the beer. It's her turn, isn't it?" Isa said, sending a paper aeroplane zooming towards Olivier's head.

Olivier batted it away, and continued his increasingly desperate phone conversation, "Yes, well, that's why I planned it for this evening since I knew you were going out of town."

"But I'm not going out of town this evening," Isa said. At least, that was what Olivier translated it as. What Isa had actually said was 'Mmrah nnah oow zzng,' but Olivier had become fluent in Sandwich over the last few weeks, a language which, along with that of Deep Fried Pastry, was something he was convinced was a derivative of the universally-spoken root of Toothbrush.

"Which is why I – you're winding me up again, aren't you?" Olivier sighed as Isa gifted him with a bacon and tomato-decorated grin.

Claire hated poker, declaring it bourgeois and common, but it was Olivier's turn to host so he had been trying to be considerate by scheduling for a time when Claire would be away. "No, not you! I'm not trying to segregate you from my friends. They'd love to see you, but you know you'd be bored stiff, Claire. And---"

Whatever else he'd been planning on saying was pointless since she'd hung up on him again. It had become a more and more common happening in recent months.

"Wow." Isa chewed perfunctorily, swallowed, and continued in a rather less muffled voice, "Why didn't you try out for a diplomat, Olivier? They'd love to have had you..."

"If you didn't make sure I was always having two conversations at once, one of which I shouldn't have been having on this occasion if I had any sense of self-preservation – which I apparently don't because I let you within a hundred yards of me while I try to get something right, have you any idea how much better that could have gone?" Olivier demanded.

Isa screwed up his face, either trying to work out the conundrum or Olivier's syntax, both of which appeared to lead him to an equally satisfying conclusion of negation, as he simply shook his head, and said briefly –

"Wouldn't have. You had your conciliatory voice on."

And there lay the hell of dealing with someone who had apparently shown signs of being a very good psychologist indeed before he decided he would rather put the criminal element of Paris behind bars than try to help them in any sort of constructive manner, and worked his way up from being a uniformed officer in Narcotics, of all places, before he applied for a transfer and got pitched into the hell that was training. He was usually and nastily right.

"Conciliatory my arse…" Olivier muttered. "If I was conciliatory then why didn't she hear it that way?"

"Because your wife is a Grade A bi—"

"Isa! I'd thank you to not finish that statement… ever."

Rather than reply, Isa just took another bite of his sandwich, but his expression was still wide and telling.

Olivier thought of several nasty things he would like to say, and was fortunately prevented from voicing any of them by an incredibly sour-looking Detective Bernard coming over and dumping a package on his desk.

"Because our names are so alike," he said in cross explanation, and stalked off again.

"And he actually looks as though he's eaten more lemons than you," Isa said in mock-surprise. "Perhaps I should send him a package of his own." He grinned. "Prunes. They might help."

"Because they'll remind him of what he's going to look like when he's all dried and shrivelled?" Olivier asked, not wanting to really know and yet unable to stop himself asking.

"No, because a good clear out of his system might improve his mood," Isa said instructively. "Although…I should probably give them to him to take home, considering the amount of shit piled up in his system…"

Olivier just chuckled and shook his head. No matter what was going on in his life, Isa could always say something that made him feel better, even if it often made him want to shoot the man as well.

"So, what's in the box?" Isa asked, taking another bite of his sandwich, "Porn of the month club?"

"No, it's not, I have no—" Olivier looked at the almost too neatly written return address and then grinned. "Well, what do you know?"

"Was that you asking for a list, or rhetoric? 'Cos a list would take ages. It would be fun for me, of course, but you might actually shoot me before I was halfway through."

Olivier closed his eyes, and reminded himself grimly of the paperwork that would ensue if he shot Isa anyway, just for the hell of it. Years of commanding men in the field had done absolutely nothing for his ability to get one fellow detective to shut up on demand.

"Spare me the list, please. It's from Claire's partner. "

"What, he's turning in his little black book?" Isa peered over at the slim package. "Oh, no, wait, he's turning in her little black – and I'm shutting up right now, yes."

"Yes. Thank you." Olivier scowled and turned to open the package. It was wrapped just as neatly as it had been addressed, precise folds of paper and the box a perfect fit for the book inside.

Olivier took out the note before he opened the book.

Here is the Brecht that I promised you, translated into English.
I hope you find him as enjoyable as I always have.
- R

There was no inscription in the book itself, but then that was hardly surprising. Even in her most junior days at the Interior, Claire had gone through the house ruthlessly taking out every flyleaf even addressed to her, as though it were some betrayal of her innermost secrets to have so much as her name in a book. He had worked out later that they had undergone a particularly gruelling induction to closework and profiling, leaving them all convinced that anything personal left around was tantamount to a betrayal of state secrets. He had wondered before if it had only been Claire who had held onto that rigorous, half-paranoid approach, but judging from the pristine, untraceable state of the slim little hardback, it was a general view.

What a lonely bloody life he must lead, he thought suddenly, with a faint trace of something he was dismayed to recognize as pity. Claire at least had him around, dropping ash and papers and leaving books open and bent over sofa arms, half-finished drinks without coasters and generally driving her insane while reminding him that life around her could continue as normal for other people. René had – what? A house, he knew that much, but Claire had never mentioned a partner of the more loving kind, nor had he mentioned one when Olivier had issued his standing invitation.

"Not porn then?" Isa sounded vaguely disappointed.

"No. Poetry from Claire's partner. We had a talk about it at the party and he promised to lend me one of his books." A fairly nice book too, the hardback copy leather bound with gilt edges and all. "You spoke with him a bit, Isa. What did you think?"

Olivier had found the man to be almost too insightful. It certainly hadn't taken him but a moment to understand exactly why he had been more than curious about Claire's partner, nor did Olivier doubt that René knew that he and Claire weren't doing as well as they could be. He also knew with a certainty that it was not because Claire had told him anything specific.

"Seems nice enough, for a spook," Isa said with a shrug, and then laughed. "Oh, what, I'm not supposed to have worked it out? If Claire was as into technology as you've made out, there'd be something of it at your house, and that man was as much a business partner in a hardware firm as I am. Less, probably," he added with an oddly thoughtful look. "Nice sheet of blank paper, that's what he was. Well, obviously not in general, but he sure as hell wanted everyone to think so, didn't he?"

Olivier wasn't really surprised that Isa had figured out what his wife did for a living; since from the first moment they'd met Isa had amazed him with his ability to summarize everyone in the room quite effortlessly. How one man could be so seemingly oblivious and so casually observant all at the same time was just part of the very strange layers that made up Isaac du Vallon.

"Yes, he does have that big "move along, nothing to see here" blandness thing down pat, doesn't he?" Something that Claire had never been able to pull off no matter how hard she tried.

"Yeah, except when it comes to actually talking to people," Isa pointed out. "He was all set to tie me in a verbal knot, and you like him." He accompanied the last with an expansive hand gesture. "You invited him over to make sure he got the third degree and its accompanying message of future torture, and you ended up liking him. That's….quite a talent, for blank paper. And I don't think he was doing a snow job on you, either. Claire's no more his lover than I am yours."

"Thank you, Isa. What a nice, terrifying mental image that is."

"Oh, but Olivier…what about the baby? Little Jean will be so disappointed that his daddy is denying him…." Apparently Isa couldn't resist it, any more than he could resist batting his eyelashes at his friend.

"At least you admit that you'd be the mother," Olivier barked out a laugh, only half-listening as he looked at the book again. "Maybe I should invite him 'round for poker night?"

"Yeah..." Isa said hesitantly, and then looked up with an expression like a mournful spaniel deprived of someone else's supper. "You do realize he'll clean us out, though, right?"

"Huh?" Olivier asked intelligently.

"Poker face," Isa explained. "World's best poker face. We're doomed." He scowled. "And soon to be very, very broke…"

"Well, that depends," Olivier said with the serenity of a man who knew that for once, he had the upper hand.

"On what?" Isa demanded. "His charity?"

"No," Olivier said slowly, "on which persona he decides to bring to the poker table."

Isa thought about that, grimaced, and said finally and in tones of deepest gloom, "Well, fuck.."

"Cheer up, Isa. You were right about one thing."

"Oh, yeah?" Isa demanded sceptically. "And what would that be, o fount of wisdom?"

"You're doomed," Olivier said, and threw his own, more carefully-made paper aeroplane across the room. It hit Isa on the nose.

"Yeah, yeah, whatever, you just like saying doom," Isa muttered, rubbing the afflicted appendage with a sigh. Then he looked up with a grin that Olivier found himself unable to resist.

"Doom," they chorused.

"Yes, thank you," said Captain de Treville, appearing out of nowhere with his usual vilely inopportune timing. "An accurate summation of your future if some work doesn't start getting done, I'd say…"

Silence, immediate and suspicious, fell in the room. De Treville glared around him impartially, and left again.

"Doom," Isa whispered into the tapping of keyboards and paper-shuffling, as several detectives tried very hard indeed to look as though they were doing something productive.

"I heard that!"


It was amazing, Olivier thought later that evening, that two such disparate personalities could both have equally good poker faces. René d'Herblay, calm and smoothly bland as custard, no matter what cards he was dealt, and Kitty Godin, the Sûreté's resident archive Senior and cold case expert, with her deceptively young face and bright smile simultaneously teasing everyone in the room and daring them to guess what her hand was like. And both of them played equally cut-throat games, he thought as he looked at his much diminished pile of chips.

"I think I need a breather," he announced as Kitty scooped up the winnings of the most recent hand. "Anyone know where Connie is? It's starting to be a bit beyond even her usual 'fashionably late' arrival."

Lissa flipped open her phone, and made a face. "You know, if I weren't allergic to these things, I might do stuff like, oooh, check my messages. Except for where I get an endless stream of Isa's sodding tweets, which does my remaining braincells no good at all."

"My tweeting is a masterpiece of the style," Isa said haughtily, and then pouted. "You want to block me?"

"Constantly, darling, but I manage," Lissa said, without looking up from her phone. "Oh. Dinner with the in-laws. At her place. Yeah, I'd forget about that one for as long as I could, too."

"Oh, God," Kitty grimaced. "Two accountants and a vegan dietician… I can only imagine that scintillating dinnertime conversation, let alone the menu."

"Poor Connie," Lissa chuckled. "We'll have to take her to dinner tomorrow night. Stuff her full of red meat and chocolate mousse."

"That could be the next hand," Isa said thoughtfully, a look of dreamy, abstracted evil crossing his face that was more suited to one of Saki's diabolically louche heroes, possibly Clovis planning his best brand of elegantly wreaked social havoc, than a detective playing poker. "First one to fold gets to take Connie out. Second one gets to explain to her husband that she's working overtime."

"You're dealing, then, are you?" René asked, so smoothly that it took everyone a moment to register the insult.

"Hey -" Isa started to complain, but Olivier cut him off.

"Refill, Isa?"

"But - yeah, sure, fine."

Olivier collected glasses and headed for the bar with a grin. He was really beginning to appreciate René's sharp wit and quick tongue, it was making their usual poker night just that much more enjoyable.

Plus, you had to give credit to someone, aside from Lissa, who could keep Isa in line.

"So how come you're not working with Claire?" Kitty asked, propping her elbows on the table and resting her chin on her hands as she looked at René with slightly narrowed eyes. Her insatiable curiosity made her an excellent member of the Sûreté, and a truly disturbing participant in what purported to be ordinary social events. René seemed to have her measure, though, looking back at her with the same steady regard, if his was less obvious in its calculating assessment. "I thought that was the thing about being someone's partner, that you attended conferences and stuff together."

"Ah, but then who would run the office so that she had something to come back to?" René asked lightly. "With both of us gone, the destruction might well be incalculable." One corner of his mouth turned up in a small smile, as though something about the thought amused him. Olivier wondered what particularly destructive event he was remembering, to provoke even private amusement to become visible on his face. He doubted it was a joke that could be shared with anyone else – or rather, that it was anything the man was allowed to share with anyone else.

He found himself biting down on laughter of his own, as he imagined Claire's reaction to it if he asked what that had been about.

Your partner nearly cracked a smile on poker night, talking about office destruction. I was just wondering...

Somehow, he couldn't see himself getting any kind of reply other than a suggestion that he check into the nearest psychiatric wing of a hospital – any hospital - at the earliest opportunity.

"You should try sharing a building with Isa… let alone an office," Kitty quipped. "I've frequently had to save it."

"I live with him," Lissa deadpanned.

"You win."

"Hey—" Isa started again, then just chuckled, and leaned over to plant a sloppy kiss on Lissa's cheek.

Olivier set Isa's drink down on the table and then wandered onto the patio, going over to where the short flight of shallow stone steps went towards the lawn, and propping one foot up against the rough bricks of the wall that enclosed them. He really had needed a breather…well, not so much a breather as a cigarette and he knew that Lissa couldn't tolerate them. He lit up, drawing the warm smoke deep into his lungs.

"Well, if you're set on playing for dinner with a beautiful lady, I'll be dealt out on account of innate boorishness, I think," René could be heard saying amusedly inside.

"Oh, a man who recognises his faults, that's admirable," Kitty said, sharply teasing, and René laughed.

"I recognise them, but you'll forgive me if I don't take the opportunity to list them, won't you?"

"You just want to join the unsubtle smoking corner," Kitty retorted.

"I'm so transparent like that," René agreed mildly, and there was the sound of a chair scraping back on the kitchen flagstones.

Olivier gave him a welcoming grin as he came out the door, "You seem to be holding your own in there."

From René's expression, he understood that Olivier was not talking solely about poker, "I'm enjoying myself. Thank you for the invitation."

"I told you I'd welcome you back…although; if you continue to win all my money I may have to rethink that."

"I could start cheating and let you win," René suggested, the unspoken because that's what it would take hanging more clearly in the damp chill of the night air than if he had actually voiced them.

"Um, yeah, mind if I pass on that? Because now I would, in fact, know what you were doing, and there'd be no fun to it at all." Olivier stubbed out his cigarette on the little patio wall, and lit another. "Sorry. I'm going to have to start wearing patches on these evenings if Lissa keeps up her Health Authority rants about the dangers of second-hand smoke. There's only so much passive guilt a man can take."

"Fun, not ethics." René, ignoring Olivier's pathetic excuse for what it was, being in fact abject terror of Lissa, shook his head with a faint grin. "Obviously that's the main objection."

"It is when it's among friends," Olivier countered. "I win money from Lissa. Kitty wins money from me. We all win money from Isa. Next week it reverses. Or on Tuesday, Kitty will bring us lunch or Isa will borrow it back. We all know that so… a bit of playful cheating? Only adds to the amusement."

Olivier drew another long drag off his cigarette before he continued, "But they aren't cheating, you know? Not tonight. It wouldn't be fair since they don't know if you'd get that it was all in fun. Next time though, all bets will be off. Assuming you'd want to come next time?"

"Oh, I want to come next time," René agreed, and his grin turned into something sharper and rather predatory-looking. "I need to get my own back for the terribly nice interrogation party I've just been to, after all. And lovely though it's all been, I need to get back." He raised a hand, effectively cutting Olivier off as he started to protest. "No, I really do have to get back. To the, er, office. There should" He trailed off a bit helplessly, and shrugged.

"Making sure you're online?" Olivier asked, trying not to laugh. René might be good at lying, but he was utterly hopeless at finding code with which to have a normal conversation. In other words, Claire had got to wherever it was she needed to be, and René was on electronics for the night. Olivier reminded himself yet again that he was not in any way getting to know this man so that he could spy on his wife, and swallowed down the automatic request to listen in that had sprung so quickly to mind.

I could get by even if it were only her breathing I could hear...

Christ, but he had become pathetic! At least in the Army he had learned not to think of Claire at all, but with time away from work with little else to occupy his mind, he found every minute without her almost intolerable.

"Right," René agreed, looking both sympathetic and disgusted with himself. "That. Let me know when and where, won't you?"

"Kitty's turn next, I think, but yeah… I will. And…" Olivier wanted to kick himself for the next words out of his mouth, "…keep her safe… please?"

Claire would hate that he asked it, claiming that she needed no one but herself.

"I'm going," René said quietly, "to pretend very very hard that you did not just remind me what my job is tonight, because if I heard you do that, then you also reminded me of why I don't bother with getting to know anyone from my co-workers' personal lives. I'm starting to like you and that motley crew in there, and it's a surprisingly pleasant process. So do me a favour and don't wreck the only vaguely enjoyable evening I've had in the last few years, would you?" He tilted his head a little, frowning as though he were working over a problem. "Goodnight," he said at last, as though he had finally come to a conclusion. "Thank you for...most of your money." His expression softened into that little curl of private amusement, at that, and he raised a hand in an odd little sketched salute that both said his farewells and prevented any attempt at contact, before turning on his heel and walking back into the kitchen, presumably to make some rather better excuses than he had just managed out on the patio.

Olivier grimaced, but didn't go after him. That really had come out as rather insulting, in spite of the fact that he hadn't meant it that way. It went without saying that you kept your partner safe and really, he should have left it that way – without saying.

Why, he wondered, did all sense leave him when it pertained to Claire?

Who then devised the torment? Love.

It wasn't a very reassuring answer. He wasn't even sure if it was the answer, but at least it approached some sort of explanation.

There was a murmur of voices inside, and then Isa appeared at the open French windows, looking out over the darkened garden with an unfamiliar expression that Olivier took a moment to identify as worry.

"What?" he demanded, the word coming out far more sharply than he had meant it to. Isa screwed up his face, and shook his head, more a visible process of thought than a negation.

"Nothing, really, but I was wondering..."

Olivier decided that he really couldn't deal with one of Isa's insights right then, and opened his mouth in order to cut him off, but Isa just continued -

"How good is he going to be when we let him cheat, for fuck's sake?"


Having had a relatively peaceful, if sleepless night, interspersed with Claire at her acerbic best, making comments in her rare bathroom breaks about her target that had René howling with unkind laughter, René considered that it was horrendously unfair of life to present him with the Prefect's daughter, complete with drool, for the last hour of his shift.

"Why me?" he asked, in no hope of an answer. He hadn't got one when he demanded to know why the Prefect had brought his decidedly underage progeny to work in the middle of the night, and he wasn't expecting any better now, despite the reasonability of his request. The baby stuffed the lapel of his Armani suit into its mouth. "No, seriously, why me?"

"Because you have freakish hands and she shut up?" volunteered the Prefect, and René bared his teeth in a snarl.

"I have a freakishly expensive suit, too, and look at it!" he hissed venomously, trying his best not to sound anything like as disturbing as he felt, in case the baby left off her suit-wrecking and started screaming again.

"I am looking at it," the Prefect answered implacably, "and at you. I think next time my sitter comes down with the flu, I've found the perfect substitute."

"Fuck. The Hell. Off," René said grimly, with a complete disregard for protocol that in other circumstances he might have quite admired in himself. "Oh God, why are these things so wet? They just....ooze, Christ, I'm surprised they aren't stuck in sinks and left to get on with it from the second they're born."

The cackle the Prefect answered him with was decidedly evil.

René plucked the square out of the Prefect's pocket and used it to wipe the drool off of himself, and the baby and anywhere he could feel dampness. Really, this was shaping up to be one of the longest nights he'd had in…well, forever.

"God, if I have to hear one more word about race horses I'm going to shoot the man now, rather than later." Claire's voice came through the speakers. "Next time you get to be the honey-trap, René. The man smells of onions and horse and oddly, of blueberries. It's not a pleasant combination."

"Oh, swap, swap and you take the baby," René moaned to an unhearing Claire. "Onions and blueberries, my favourite...." he trailed off as the thought of what that would actually smell like occurred to him. "On the other hand, maybe drool isn't all that bad." He looked sternly at the baby. "Just....keep it to drool, would you?"

The baby whapped him in the nose with a wet fist. René closed his eyes, tried not to gag, and reached out for the now decidedly worse-for-wear handkerchief. "Oh God," he moaned.

"Fucking shit!" Claire's invective whispered through the speakers. "His wife just walked in. No chance for me to get anything else tonight then. He treats her like glass and keeps her away from any part of his business. Fuck."

Of course he did. René shook his head. The man had been all over Claire for three days, but didn't want his oh-so-innocent wife to have any idea. Things like this, once again, reminded him of why he was single, unattached to anyone, and happy to remain so.

He stayed long enough to hear Claire get out of the building safely and head back to her hotel, took off his headphones, and with a sense of utterly spurious if ecstatic virtue, walked to the Prefect's office and pushed his horrendous descendant into his startled arms.

"I," he said levelly, "am going home. If anyone calls me before midday for anything that isn't life-or-death at that precise moment, I will hunt them down and shoot them."

"Have a good evening then…." the Prefect said in the face of all dawn's evidence, as his darling daughter, once again, began to scream. "Oh, Julie… don't cry…"

"No, Julie… cry all you want, and drool… lots of drool." René muttered distastefully as he entered the elevator. God, he just wanted to get home to his peace and his music and his nice, quiet, and thank you Jesus - solitary bed.

After a bath. And a shower. And possibly a session of fumigation. Definitely after burning his clothes, because they were past even the help of a charity shop.

The familiar drive home, Beiderbecke loudly soothing his nerves with jazzed rhythm, went a long way to helping him unknot and deal with his crawling revulsion, but very little to help him forget about just how close he had come to completely breaking and giving in to his need for order and cleanliness over a - God forgive him - innocent baby. He separated work and home with an enormous effort of will, and the hour's worth of continual contact with a completely helpless being had gone a fair way to shattering all his careful, necessary barriers of persona.

He pulled up into the drive, carrying his drool-ridden coat with two fingers, nothing more complex on his mind than deciding if food or bath should come first, when he was stopped short by the sight of a pair of legs sprawled out across his front walk. The legs were jeans-clad, ending in a pair of black trainers that waggled rhythmically, as if the person they were attached to were keeping time to some frantic melody only he could hear – or possibly were just trying to keep warm in the chill of the still-dark early morning.

"I did mention shooting, didn't I?" he asked with murderous pleasantry.

"Er." Olivier blinked up at him, and got rather quickly to his feet. "No? Really? You'd do that to me?"

Looks of pathetic innocence, René decided, as if he had ever been in doubt, were definitely not suited to freezing cold, incredibly unshaven men in battered leather jackets who looked rather as if their face had been slept in rather than their clothes.

"Olivier? What are you doing there? And how did you find out where I live?" René shook his head at his own question. Olivier had access to motor vehicle records through his work. It would have been fairly simple for him to discover his address. "No, never mind, go back to my first question – why are you here, freezing your arse off, on my doorstep…in the middle of the – actually, the end of the night?"

Olivier blinked at him with an owlishness that really couldn't be explained away by the hour. "It was only the middle of the night when I got here. Do you want some brandy?"

A rather large bottle of a very excellent vintage was thrust towards him, liberally sprinkling his already hopeless clothing. It went a long way to answering most of René's questions, and yet somehow raised even more.

René considered wisdom and refusal, discarded it as unappealing, and opted for honesty. "Yes," he said fervently. "And no, before you ask me and offend me, Claire is fine, it's just..." he sighed, and took a swig from the bottle. "The Prefect brought his baby in. Oh God." He shuddered miserably.

"Claire doesn't want any either," Olivier slurred. "'Course, I've seen her with chil'ren. She's no good at 'em. No good at all. Even her dog ran away…"

René refused to ask why Olivier equated being no good with children to the fact of Claire's missing dog, since he knew that he was hardly one to talk, wanting neither to depend on him for a home as long as he lived. "Be that as it may, let's get back to my question. Why are you here?"

There was a long silence. "I forgot?" Olivier asked eventually. "I mean. I had a thought, but you answered it."

It was a damn sight more than René was doing for his own thoughts, but he decided to let that one slide, more concerned with the fact that there was no way he was either going to drive Olivier home or let him anywhere near the wheel of a car, and that meant letting him into his house. Which, God, about summed up the whole bloody night. He was almost tempted to use the emergency contact line for Claire, get her to cancel the op, and have her fly home to deal with the inevitable and forthcoming hangover.

"Your house is nice," Olivier suddenly blurted out. "Not so big, which is nice. Ours is…too big, and when Claire's gone it's…." his voice trailed off. "I didn't want one that big, it was Claire's idea. I just can't tell her no, I guess."

"Please tell me," René said rather desperately, as he tried to work out what the hell any of this had to do with him in the first place, "that you haven't broken into my house to find out what its proportions are? Because then I would have to burn it down and kill you, and I am too fucking tired for either right now."

Apparently exhaustion and desperate need for a shower rendered him more irrational than any amount of alcohol. Olivier blinked at him, looking a lot more sober, and pushed René's non-jacket-holding (thank God) hand up against his chest with the brandy bottle.

"You," he said solemnly, "are definitely having a thy need is greater moment."

"Yes, well…" René snorted and took another drink of the brandy, wiping his mouth on his shirt sleeve, which had been dry up to that point. "But you didn't, did you? Break in," he clarified, just in case he wasn't making himself explicit enough in his fears.

Olivier rolled his eyes, "If I'd broken in would I've been sitting out here on your walk in the cold? I'm jus' drunk, not crazy."

This must, René thought, make him the one lacking in sanity. "I have no idea," he said wearily, unable to even muster up the requisite amount of outrage. "Oddly enough, I wasn't expecting you here at all, so the whole process by which you decided to be here is quite honestly a little beyond me. As far as I know, it's your idea of polite behaviour."

"Yeah, well, you ans'ered my question, so I'll just be taking my rude self off then…." Olivier growled and started down the walk. "Thanks, René… for… whatever…."

"You can't drive home like that," René argued with him. Damn, he didn't need this. Weren't his nerves jangled enough?

"Didn't drive here in the firs' place."

"Oh my God," said René, giving up on sense and the world in general, and opening his door to let some of the blessed, blessed heat wrap around him. "Just come in, would you? And take your shoes off, Christ, did you cut through a random field or something?"

Olivier looked down at his feet, his plan of walking away suddenly derailed by René's question, "I don't know. Maybe. Claire says I'm a slob…"

René's breath caught for an inexplicable moment when Olivier looked back up at him, his face so pained and full of despair it was almost a tangible force. How could love do that to someone who otherwise seemed to be such a strong person? How could it bring him so low?

He didn't want to even start considering it, let alone deal with why Olivier had brought it – or possibly it had brought Olivier - to his doorstep at ungodly a.m., and he took refuge in irascible practicality as the best form of evasion. "Olivier, you just have mud. I have baby drool and brandy that some kindly soul decided to douse me with on my arrival home to what I thought was going to be a completely different kind of shower. I don't think you even start to qualify as a slob in comparison. Now for mercy's sake, shut up, take your damned shoes off, go upstairs, open the second door on the right and go to sleep in the bed before I really do kill you, would you?"

Thankfully, Olivier just nodded and managed, somehow, to get his shoes off without falling over and ducked through the door. René closed the door with a relieved sigh, setting the locks before turning and almost running into the back of Olivier, who apparently had gone no farther than the entryway.

"Christ, you're not going to be ill are you? The bathroom is just there." He pointed it out frantically.

"I never get sick when I drink."

"Then why are you standing there?"

"I don't know where the stairs are?" It sounded logical, except for the fact that -

"At the end of the hallway in front of you," René said, at the end of any patience he had been clinging to. "The next step - stage -" oh God, inadvertent puns, he was definitely too tired to be allowed conversation, especially with a drunk man - "is going up them." He repeated, uselessly and pathetically - "second door on the right."

"And straight on till morning," Olivier muttered, but at least he was moving.

"Yes, thank you, Peter." René said, hovering patiently behind him. "There's an adjoining bath and if you wake up before me, feel free to…" leave "…make coffee or…whatever."

René seriously doubted, however, that Olivier would wake up anytime soon… if he ever got him to go upstairs to bed, that was.

"What are you going to do?" Olivier asked with the forced interest of the navel-gazing and thoroughly inebriated.

"Have a shower, put on some music, play a computer game that involves beating people to death with their own limbs, and go to sleep myself," René answered honestly, confident that Olivier wouldn't remember a word of it.

"Shadow of Rome," Olivier nodded absently, moving up the stairs. "'Night, then…"

"Yes. Good night, Olivier. Do try to get on the bed before you pass out, hmmm?" René shook his head as Olivier stumbled through the bedroom door and gave him a rather rude salute before closing it behind him.

He lifted his hands to his face, meaning to rub at his eyes and convince himself of his wakefulness and his lack of hallucinations, and instead nearly brained himself with the brandy bottle.

"Oh well," he murmured, heading towards the shower, "I suppose that proves I am quite definitely here, even if I'm both asleep and hallucinating. Only reality can be this painful..."


The entangled smells of coffee and bacon woke René the next morning at nine o'clock. Well, that and the sound of someone whistling.

"Justifiable homicide," René muttered. "I'm sure I'd be acquitted… really." Of course, if Olivier had made enough coffee and bacon for two and served it up with some eggs, he just might forgive him.

He was mostly dressed and fairly awake by the time he worked out that this meant he had achieved approximately three hours sleep, and therefore should not have been stirred from his well-earned repose even by bacon, but his stomach had apparently taken the casting vote along with his feet, and he was most of the way down the stairs by the time even irritation kicked in.

"What the fuck are you doing?"

Olivier's whistle cut out mid-note, and he looked down at the bowl he was stirring, "Making breakfast? Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you until it was almost done."

"I can see you're making – oh my God, what, why is the coffee in the saucepan, why – how – ?" René looked at his formerly immaculate kitchen, tried to work out how in the hell anyone could do that to innocent surfaces, a floor, and a cooker with only bacon and coffee grounds, and sat on the edge of the table with a faint groan.

"The coffee is in the saucepan because I couldn't figure out your high-tech cappuccino machine," Olivier shrugged and went back to his stirring. "Trust me… this will be fine. I've made it this way many times when I was out in the field."

He paused to lift the pan and pour it into two mugs, passing one to René. "It's a bit strong though. You might want to add some water."

The strength of it didn't seem to bother him though, and René watched Olivier take a large drink of it before trying it himself.

René, who never used the cappuccino part of his machine except for his (largely fictional and usually purely theoretical) guests, and was more inclined towards very small cups of espresso that he could swallow all in one and thus not have to think about the cooling dregs at the bottom of a cup, looked at the large mug with some dismay, before gritting his teeth and determinedly not thinking about just how much washback would be collecting in the damn thing by the time he had even drunk enough for politeness' sake.

But the coffee was strong, and hot, and almost consoling in its vaguely burned taste, and no matter how ghastly it was as a concept, it had the merit of also being there, which on three hours' worth of sleep proved to be an overriding argument in its favour.

"Thank you," he said with a sincerity that surprised him.

"You're welcome, and since you're awake you can tell me what you like in your omelette rather than me guessing." Olivier told him. "I found cheese and mushrooms and peppers and, oh, some capers and tomato and onion."

He turned back to the stove to flip the bacon and turn on the burner under the skillet. "Or are you one of those people who just nibble at toast and call it breakfast?"

René, who couldn't really remember the last time he had the time to consume any sort of meal at a time where it merited the correct appellation, other than 'random sandwich', blinked at Olivier in some confusion. "Er, if it's there, I eat it," he said at last, not feeling up to a detailed discussion about why the fuck else would I have bought any of it? or remind me again what time of day you generally have breakfast? or indeed why the fuck fuck fuck are you making me an omelette and why would you put capers in one anyway? which last was probably an accurate summary of just how confused his thought processes were, if not particularly enlightening even to him.

"Good." Olivier grinned back over his shoulder, then poured the contents of the bowl he'd been stirring into the pan. "I'll just make one huge one and we'll split it."

And damn if the man didn't start whistling again, and Beethoven, of all things, as he placed the bacon on a plate and went back to watching the eggs, gathering the other ingredients. Christ, three hours of sleep, on top of however much the man had drunk the night before and not only did he look wide awake, but he didn't even have the grace to appear hung-over.

It occurred to him, belatedly, that this was Olivier's way of apologising for all of it, including his lack of a headache - and while it was on one level rather touching, it was also making René feel as though he were the one with a hangover, and as a result rather anxious for Olivier to go, so that he could return to bed, get another couple of hours' sleep, and start the day again with no-one else to worry about, no appearances to maintain, no bomb-site kitchen, no bed to strip or laundry to do, and no prospect of however much washing up there was going to be in a few minutes' time.

Within a very few hours, his life had got even narrower in its goals. It was really incredibly pathetic.

"And there you go…" a fragrant plate of bacon omelette appeared on the counter at his elbow, steam rising from its still hot contents. "We'll eat and then I'll clean up this mess while you get some more sleep. I'll let myself out when I'm done."

He picked up his coffee mug and walked out toward the dining room before René could say anything else.

René wasn't sure he had ever eaten in the dining room (unless he counted walking through it while still chewing on something, which he didn't), and was rather uncertain that he wanted to start, since it involved finding table mats so as not to fog the polish on the table, and possibly having to explain just why he had a perfectly equipped and obviously never used room, and a general continuance of his life's upheaval, but he was also conscious that ingratitude and rudeness were incredibly uncalled for even if they were what he felt.

"Right," he muttered, balancing plate and mug while he fished out cutlery, because apparently Olivier intended them to eat with their fingers. "I can...make conversation. In the dining room. And that conversation, please God, isn't going to be about Claire. I can do this. Without twitching or clearing anything out from under his elbow."

It seemed like a task akin to that of Sisyphus.

"Hmmm…" Olivier just stood there, staring at his table. "This, at least, is just like home. You don't ever eat here, do you?" He waggled his fingers over the table, chuckling at his own reflection. "Must be twenty coats of wax on this thing. Where do you eat…when you do?"

René regained a little of his usual unflappable and distant amusement at the lunacy of life, and answered in what he was fairly sure were pleasant enough tones, "Well, you know that table that's in the kitchen? The quite large, nicely scrubbed table that, oh yes, currently has onion peelings all over it? That would be it. The kitchen table. Being in the kitchen, and therefore not requiring a juggling act to have a meal." He raised his eyebrows a little, wondering just what Olivier had expected him to say. It was hardly Bluebeard's castle, after all.

"Yeah… well, I usually wind up juggling…" Olivier shrugged. There seemed to be much more to that statement, but Olivier didn't add to it.

Olivier snagged a fork out of René's hand and began eating, leaning back against the countertop as if this was also something he was used to doing.

René thought about clearing off the onion peelings from the table, registered the fading warmth from the plate in his hand, and gave up on pretending he wasn't starving hungry and getting closer to eating with his fingers by the second.

The eggs were surprisingly palatable, even if apparently 'crunchy' bordering on 'completely raw' was Olivier's idea of the perfectly cooked onion.

The food was demolished in record time and mostly in silence. As soon as Olivier finished he started cleaning, sweeping away the offending onion peels and wiping down anything that didn't move. "Sorry about the mess. I just can't seem to cook without making one. Fortunately, I'm also used to cleaning up after myself, so this won't take too long and I'll be out of your hair."

René, whose hair was still recovering from the incredibly unfortunate buzz-cut that his most recent role had required of him (it had either been that or hair past his shoulders, and there simply had not been time for the latter), ran a hand over the close-cropped and rather spiky growth, and snorted. "Yes, and now let's take a moment to be deeply grateful for the fact that's a saying and not a fact, shall we?"

Olivier blinked at him, looking a bit startled, and for the first time, René saw that his brightness had been mostly a mask as expert as any he could put on himself, and as hard come by. In that one unguarded moment, where he was uncertain whether to laugh or take René seriously, he looked older than René had thought him, and tired, and still rather desperately in need of a shave, and thoroughly hung-over.

Ah, there you are,, he thought for no reason, and it caught in his throat as suddenly and irrationally as his moment of inexplicable pity had the night before, leaving him adrift and wordless for a moment while he forced himself to remain still and let whatever it was pass, setting it aside to be thought on later.

"I do have painkillers," he murmured reprovingly, once he was sure of his voice.

"Dear God… please?"

That reply sounded honest at least, René thought as he ducked into the downstairs bathroom and opened the well-stocked cabinet. There were some co-codamol there, left over from the time he had wrecked his back and had to stay downstairs for two days while his legs decided they could bend properly again. He was fairly sure they were still in date, but he checked anyway before taking them out, and stifled a laugh at the thought of the cornucopia of things the upstairs cabinet contained, many of which probably need a license all of their own and which Olivier, even hung-over, might have thought it incumbent upon him to query. "You should have asked instead of suffering."

"Yeah, well…. I did it to myself, so I try to take responsibility for it, you know?"

"Self- flagellation is never attractive," René said blandly, passing over the bottle of tablets with a faint smile. "Besides. There is a subtle yet important difference between kneeling in the monk's cell with the knotted leather to hand, and accepting responsibility."

Olivier looked at him, eyes narrowing as he dry-swallowed the tablets. "And you'd know, would you?" He gestured at René's increasingly less immaculate house, his ordered, invisible life.

"I am the world's expert on the monk's cell, as you can see," René agreed, and let him make of that what he would.

"And then you have your partner's half-crazed, drunken, husband showing up on your doorstep in the middle of the night," Olivier said dryly. "A bit of lunacy in your ordered existence…."

Those last words were flat and tired sounding.

"Oh well, it's a new experience for me," René said lightly. "I don't usually attract husbands to my doorstep on account of anything. Well," he added honestly, "not that I know of. Under usual circumstances the husband element of that would be more than enough to make me send them away again." The fact that he would usually have sent anyone away again, cold night and drunken state or not, he left unsaid, since he had still not quite worked that one out himself and rather thought he didn't want to.

But there was no answering gleam of humour from Olivier, cracked or otherwise, only a shamefaced smile that had nothing to do with amusement at all. "Look, I should apo -"

"No you shouldn't," René said rather desperately, because the look of a chastised six-year-old was not good on anyone, and he truly did not want to see it being played out in his house. "Just forget about it. I'm certainly going to try."

"Yes, I'd imagine so," Olivier said gruffly and went back to his cleaning, rinsing washed plates and setting them in the drainer. "And I'll try not to inflict it on you again. Going for a walk, dead drunk, isn't something I normally do, so…."

"Oh, well, good," René said, feeling a bit desperate, and waved a hand at the stairs. "I'll just....get back to bed. The lock and alarm auto-set when you leave, so just -"

"Don't try to get back in?" Olivier suggested with a slight grin, shaking his head, and René winced at just how utterly and transparently he had shown himself to live on his own - and how permanent he viewed that state as being.

"Er, yes, actually," René admitted, and escaped.


Somehow, it wasn't left at that. Over the next several weeks, he was invited to several 'team' events. Sometimes Isa called him, once it was Kitty, but most usually it was Olivier, calm and friendly, whose voice came over his phone.

He wondered, at first, if this were some misguided attempt on Olivier's part to assuage his supposed loneliness or to, once again, attempt to apologize for his unexpected visit. He hinted as much to Isa, and was greeted with a derisive hoot of laughter.

"If that was the case, he'd do it all on his own," Isa explained, "because there isn't enough respect for Olivier in this group to make us put up with someone we don't all want included. You don't see Claire joining us, do you?"

"Well, no, but then that could be for the sake of her remaining sanity and quite by choice and while fighting daily pleas for her to participate from everyone else involved," René said honestly, and Isa, holding up a finger to expand on his point, subsided.

"Okay, yeah, point, but we're not." Isa grinned suddenly, a look René was coming to recognise with a healthy amount of dread. "And you don't ask her, either, do you?"

René felt his mouth twitch. "No," he agreed, and as Isa's evil grin shifted into a look of expectancy, added, "but that, of course, is because we are discouraged from forming social connections with -"

"Do you actually bullshit for a living?" Isa demanded in exasperation, and René, as was happening more and more often these days, started to laugh.

"Um. Well. Yes?"

"Also a good point." Isa chuckled. "But it all boils down to…you're invited and Claire isn't…because we like you." He paused there for a moment, then lifted another finger as though making checkpoints to a class. "And also because you bring food to make up for the fact that you cheat us out of all our money when we play poker."

"Isa, I keep telling you. I don't cheat. If I cheated, you would win once in a while. Which is, apparently, no fun, and that is a definition you should take up with Olivier, not me, since I would have assumed winning occasionally would be far more fun." He spread his hands innocently. "What do I know? I'm a mere clerk to you lordly detectives - ow!"

Isa, who had no concept of the careful noli mi tangere that René made such efforts to give off, had a tendency to express his topmost emotion with touch. Right now, it was obviously a kind of fake annoyance, which apparently necessitated grabbing René in a headlock and rubbing his still-growing hair into hedgehog spikes.

"Unfair, Isa, since he's not allowed to demonstrate nine points of death on you," Kitty said absently as she came through.

"I really - don't see – why I'm - not," René said rather breathlessly.

"Neither do I, for the most part," Olivier chuckled as he came in with a tray of drinks and snacks for 'Team Movie Night', which was apparently what this particular occasion had been dubbed. "Isa, let go of the nice man who can kill you in lots of nasty ways and go put the movie in the player."

"Aw, he wouldn't kill me, he loves me too much," Isa said in the face of all the evidence, as René hooked a foot around his ankle and sent them both to the floor with a threat of pointy elbows in unpleasant places. "Yeah, I kind of have to get up if I want to do that, Olivier, and he's – he's got his - oof – God, help, I don't want to moooove..." The last was a whine.

"Really, René," Kitty peeked down at him. "Didn't your mother ever teach you not to be cruel to dumb animals?"

"Yeah," Isa began, "you shouldn't be - Hey!"

Olivier just chuckled and offered a hand to René, drawing him to his feet, "Really, you have to learn to play nice or we'll have to give the puppy to some other little boy."

"Do you know, I think I would cope," René said thoughtfully, watching Isa's undignified scramble to his feet. "And what do you mean learn, anyway, I always play nice."

"To your own definition, yes," Olivier agreed without missing a beat. "And I've told you before, that doesn't count."

"Bah," said René in cheerful dismissal, and sat on the sofa in an inelegant sprawl that even a month ago he would never have considered. Lissa, already curled up there, kicked her shoes off and stuck her feet in his lap.

"Foot rub," she said pathetically. "Eleven hour shift. René, put those freakish hands of yours to use."

"Why does everyone think my hands are freakish?" René asked the world hopelessly, but he obliged.

"Because they look so delicate," Lissa began.

"But they're ridiculously competent," Kitty continued.

"And you can kill people with them." Isa muttered, sitting back down on the floor with a wince.

"Yes, which does not go any way to explaining why you want me to touch your feet with them," René pointed out, carefully not saying that he didn't particularly want to be touching someone's feet after they'd been standing in rubber-soled shoes for eleven hours, either. He had a strong suspicion that Lissa knew exactly how many aversions he struggled with every time he had to be in general company, and was shamelessly exposing him to as many of them as she could out of some misguided desire to help. She was constantly passing him half-finished food, a bottle of beer she had taken one swig out of and then discarded, putting her feet in his lap, asking him to lift her hair out of her coat collar, turning the sleeves of his coat half-way to inside out, and generally, he was convinced, waiting for his twitching to become bad enough so that he snapped. Either that, or hoping his twitching would stop entirely, but since that was a vain hope, he just attributed her actions to her innately terrifying conviction that she could rearrange everyone's life into a facsimile of normality. He supposed it was an effective defence against the insanity that was Isa and the Sûreté lot, but he was not all that keen on it being turned towards him.

"Because it feels good." Lissa answered, as if that should be obvious. "And because it makes Olivier crazy…"

René tilted his head back, and looked curiously at Olivier, who other than being inverted from that perspective, looked distinctly non-crazy. Olivier shrugged in return.

"No clue," he said. "Probably best not to ask, really. Yes, Lissa, it makes me crazy. I'm overcome with...I'm maddened, I give up. I really give up. Why does it make me crazy, again?"

"Because you like hands." She said it slowly, as if explaining to someone of diminished understanding. "That's why you've given Claire so many beautiful rings."

There was an odd little silence, and then René, not knowing why, felt constrained both to break it and to change the gathering mood that always seemed, like an incipient thunderstorm, to move around Olivier when another woman talked about Claire. "Olivier?"


"I don't like rings," René said innocently. "Restrain yourself. Defy temptation. No rings."

"No… no rings," Olivier said chuckling, and pulling one of René's hands away from Lissa's feet to hold against his chest. "I promise."

They all laughed at the joke, but René wondered if anyone else noticed the tips of Olivier's ears turning red.

"Surrounded by peasants and dolts," he muttered with feigned annoyance, recovering his hand and reapplying himself to Lissa's feet, and wondered why he had never noticed Claire's rings before.

It was only after the film, when he was, as always, making his excuses to take an early leave, that he realised it was because he had never seen her wear them.

Later on, when they were listening to the Prefect's briefing on their next assignment, he caught himself staring at Claire's completely ringless fingers. Olivier had to know that she never wore them. He had to know that his carefully chosen gifts never graced those long elegant fingers. That had to be the explanation for his blush, disappointment.

He wondered what excuse Claire gave for never wearing them, or if she even bothered to make something up, and he wondered, too, what stones Olivier had chosen for her, and what settings he had envisaged as being ideally suited to those pale, Renaissance, lethal appendages.

He himself would have chosen emeralds and antique rose gold, he knew, the metal as darkly bright as the jewels, making the length and pallor of her fingers into a rich silk, a frame of glowing flesh-fabric. But then, he did not crave their touch; he did not long to bring his mouth to them, nor did he ever want to know how they would feel in a caress upon his own skin.

Would desire change what his mind's eye saw? Did it affect what he saw and remembered, when he felt it?

Thou by the River Ganges' side
Would rubies find...

Rubies were not for Claire, not with their implications of virtue. He would never give those to her, not even for the sake of beauty alone.

But then I have never complained by the tide of Humber, either, he thought in disgust, nor, thank God, do I feel any kind of vegetable love for that white skin. He closed his mind determinedly to any further thought in that direction, and dragged his attention back to the Prefect's explanation.

"Wait, what?" he said in sudden startlement as he finally caught up. "I'm going to be a what now? Oh come on, I make a crap banker. I make a spectacularly bad, unbelievable, ridiculously lucky banker. You know I do. The last time you made me do anything financial I turned an enormous profit and had to give it all back." He was still smarting over that one.

"Well, this one is for a very small local institution, so things can be ferried through our system here. You should have to do very little actual banking." The Prefect chuckled. "And that reminds me, I think I should pull you off the streets at the end of the year and let you handle all the budgetary meetings."

It was a joke, but a particularly horrifying one.

"Ah, the downscaling of the criminal mind, of course," René said wearily. "Why can't I have a nice big bank with proper firewalls and interesting strategies required to get to the accounts?"

"Because then," the Prefect said patiently, "they wouldn't be successful downscaled criminal minds. And no-one would believe that a helpful banker had suddenly turned up. Small bank, so you'll be plausibly corruptible."

"Oh, I'm that all right," René muttered.

"All the details are there in the files. Take a good look at them and be back here tomorrow morning to pick up your identification and everything else." The Prefect looked them over. It was obviously their dismissal, so René and Claire picked up the paperwork and walked out.

"At least you're getting around playing honey trap," Claire gave him a snippy smile.

"Oh, because that's obviously so much worse than stultifying boredom," René agreed in the same tone. It wasn't exactly consoling to discover that whenever something truly tedious needed to be done, he was the first person anyone thought of. Not that he would have denied how good he was at carrying off neutral and unnoticeable, but there were occasions when he actually enjoyed putting on a wholly different persona, immersing himself in a more interesting man than he suspected he would ever be.

"No. True. But then again, for some people boredom is a way of life."

René's eyes cut to Claire's face at the comment, but somehow he was certain that, this time at least, she wasn't referring to him.

"So, you'll be missing poker night, or the sewing circle, or whatever other event you were going to be sharing with Olivier and his little friends?"

"Crochet, this time," René agreed cheerfully. "'Fraid so. Respectable bankers, even corruptible ones, don't tend to crochet on Thursday evenings." He smiled a little. "Now, tapestry work, that's another matter..."

"And let me guess…you use Isa for the frame?" Claire gave an indelicate snort. "Still, I'm sure you'll be heartbroken to miss it…whatever it is."

René frowned a little, noting almost absently how much harder it was these days to keep his face expressionless around Claire now that he was used to more - well, quite honestly, normal interaction with their contemporaries and her husband. "Take it out on Olivier, not me," he advised quietly. "You'd be welcome if you made yourself so, and I have no idea why you've taken it upon yourself to make such a stunning display of negative charm around them all when we both know you could have had them in the palm of your hand like a bird-catcher."

"But darling, they're all so….. common." Claire protested. "Glorified policemen and a nurse… Pfft. And none of them want to be anything more than what they are."

"I suppose not," René agreed, at his most deliberately, irritatingly bland. "But they also have the desire to make others more than they are. I can see why you hate it." He grinned, sharp and teasing and unkind. "Such self-assurance must distress you quite awfully..."

"Of course it does, René," Claire was completely nonplussed. "You know I have to rule the roost..."

"There's a saying about flies, honey and vinegar," René said with a good deal of the last starting to show in his voice, "but I assume you've discarded that concept as unworthy of your attention. Besides, as long as you aspire to be more than you are, I'm sure that eventually everyone will be happy to join you in your lofty citadel. Now do you think we could possibly do some work?"

"Be my guest." Claire waved a hand at him. "I have a dinner engagement that I certainly do not intend to miss."

"I suppose it's too much to hope for that it's in any way work related?" René asked in hopeless irritation, and flicked his fingers at her. "Oh, go away, I don't want to know. But Claire?"

Already turning to leave, she paused and looked at him, and something in her face told him that he was letting too much slip. He didn't care. This was nothing to do with Olivier or Isa or the Sûreté or Claire's opinion of them, but something much nearer to home.

"If I need you, and I find out you're unavailable because of a prior engagement," René said softly, "I will bring your dinner date down publicly and whatever your association may be with him will become public too. You have priorities. Try and remember them."

"I'm always available for you, darling. You have my number…just like I have yours." She arched her eyebrow at him, then gave a negligent wave and walked towards the elevator.

René leant back in his chair, and opened the folder in front of him, staring at it unseeingly for a moment. Then he ran his hand over his face, put the open folder down on the desk, and bent over it, closing his eyes and shuttering all emotion away from the curious office.

"Damn," he said softly. "Damn, damn, damn."

Then he opened his eyes, and applied himself to learning his new identity.


Despair is the price one pays for setting oneself an impossible aim. It is, one is told, the unforgivable sin, but it is a sin the corrupt or evil man never practices. He always has hope. He never reaches the freezing-point of knowing absolute failure.
- Graham Greene.


Olivier had no idea how long his wife would be gone. He never did. And this time she and René were gone together, working different parts of the same op. He also didn't know details, apart from the fact that Claire had packed two swimsuits in her luggage, and a couple of her best 'little black dresses'. Both details that had him squirming in ways he didn't even want to think about.

And here he was, keeping the home fires burning, the candle in the window, and a bunch of other stupid homilies that meant that all he could do was wait for her to get back.

"You know," Isa said about a week into the whole annoying, incommunicado exercise, as they dealt with three aggravated assaults resulting from one rather badly done burglary. They were trying, with a notable lack of success, not to sympathise with the perpetrator of the assaults, who happened to be the unexpectedly returned homeowner, and had left three very unhappy burglars in need of a hospital before he was through, "we really should check on old super-spook's house while he's gone. It'd be pretty crap if he came back and found he'd been burgled."

"He has alarms, Isa," Olivier said wearily. He knew. He'd set most of them off when he tried to leave, that very strange and regrettable morning.

"Yes," Isa said slowly, staring at Olivier as though he had suddenly lost his mind, "but we should still check his house. You know. While he's away. As in not there. Yes?"

"I don't know if he'd be very happy about that. He's pretty damn private."

"I know, Olivier, but we could mow the grass and stuff. Water the...plants."

"He probably has a service."

"We could at least check. It's better if it looks like real people have been there. You know that."

"I - yes, but..." Olivier sighed. "He'll kill us. You know he'll kill us."

"If he was going to kill us for being concerned," Isa said with the demented optimism of a small and possibly prehistoric life form, "he wouldn't have let you know Claire had a key, now would he?"

"I doubt he thought we'd take that as an open invitation." Olivier argued, then sighed, because he knew he'd lost this battle before it began. Isa would keep at him until he gave in, so he might as well pass on the frustration and annoyance.

"He must have known we would," Isa pointed out, and then shrugged. "Well, if he didn't, it's all his fault for not thinking, isn't it? Monday morning sound good? Lissa got some stuff for his mean, just in case you agreed we should. You know. Not fixed plans or anything."

"Oh, no… of course not. Does Lissa even know that René has no idea about this?"

"Um… maybe."

"Isa…" Oh, God, now he was whining. "What time on Monday?"

Really, it wasn't that bad an idea. It wasn't as though they'd be snooping through his cupboards and rifling through his underwear or anything. They'd just give the place a once over and then confine themselves to the garden.

"I'm not expecting miracles," Isa said cheerfully. "Let's say ten, shall we, and give you plenty of time to get lost?"

Olivier, not in the mood to enlighten him about just why he wouldn't get lost, mostly because he had no wish to endure the cackling laughter that would no doubt ensue over his drunken night's attempt at wrecking a scarcely-begun friendship, just gave a snarling sort of nod, and wondered why the hell he had ever mentioned the key in the first place.

So on Monday morning, at nine o'clock, he was standing outside René's detached house, key in hand, wondering just why he let Isa talk him into doing such stupid things. Of course, even the small front lawn looked like it needed a good mowing and the neat little flowers (what the hell were they, anyway, other than incredibly low maintenance and ugly with it?) on the border looked a bit droopy…so maybe René didn't have a regular service…or hadn't remembered to notify them that he was going out of town.

It was enough, in the stillness of the morning, to make him think about whether the occupant of the house even truly existed, or whether he had been something they had all conjured up between them to fill a gap they had never even known was there...

He felt like the poem by de la Mare that he had read long ago, the strange one about the traveller, listening to a silent house and being watched by ghosts as he stated his intentions.

'Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,' he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake…

He shivered in the morning sun, and shook himself out of the distinctly odd mood that the closed silence had started to lead him into.

"Right, I'll just have a quick go through of the house, just to check it out and then I'll lock it back up before anyone else arrives, and we'll – we'll concentrate on the outside," he told himself with spurious firmness as he unlocked the door, breathing in the warm stale air of an unaired house at the start of summer with a faint cough. It wasn't unpleasant, simply – unused, like an old cleaned-out cupboard, only the faintest patina of dust settling on the furniture as yet, but still enough to make the absence of any inhabitant noticeable.

He had really meant to do just that. If René's somewhat bizarre reaction to him hadn't been enough that morning, his behaviour over the weeks since had confirmed Olivier's suspicion that René actually hated anyone being in his house at all, no matter what their perfectly valid reasons might be. He meant to do it even as he checked through all the downstairs rooms, even as he noted that René had apparently cancelled his housekeeper along with whoever took care of the garden while he was away. He meant to do it even as he walked down the relative coolness of the hallway, into the shaded, narrower area that led him past the closed door of a cupboard and the slightly ajar one of the cellar – and wasn't that a creepy little moment all on its own, calling up a few childhood horrors he could have done without? – and into the light of the kitchen.

Except there was a folded note on the kitchen table, addressed to him in René's now-familiar neat script, and when he flipped it open, he read -

If it's Wednesday of next week, how the hell did Isa hold out this long? If it's any time before then, any food in the fridge should be good. If not, throw it out before a hazmat team's needed. I'd tell you all to feel free to drink the beer, but since when have you needed telling?
- R.

A slow smile spread over his face but he wondered, momentarily, if he should be pleased to be so well trusted, or annoyed that he was so well known. He settled for an amused snort that covered all the ground in between and then wandered back through the rest of the house, relishing the vaguely given permission to give it an inspection that his previous visit had not been conducive to attempting.

"Kitchen, hallway, doors I'm not going anywhere bloody near because yes, the man probably is fucking Bluebeard or something, shiny dining room, big living room – huh, this used to be two rooms, I wonder if he did this or if he bought it like that – with really old heavy sideboard and separate drinks cabinet – oh, that's just showing off, d'Herblay, don't think I won't point that out at some point, one sofa that looks pretty comfortable but I don't think anyone's ever dared sit on, one baby grand piano I doubt he even plays, right by the patio doors, very elegant - two leather chairs that look like he stole them from the Sorbonne sometime last century, and – aha, knew you had it in you, René - one neatly alphabetized CD collection." He scanned the titles, seeing Miles Davis and a few others he recognized, and a hell of a lot he didn't. "Television and DVD player… but no apparent DVDs…"

So either they were in another room or hidden or, also likely, the DVD player was a recent acquisition, one that oddly gave him hope, because perhaps it meant that René was envisaging that one day, people would be here by specific invitation.

The TV was just as new, but he had the feeling that was more because René really, really liked all technical improvements than anything else. He just didn't bother to watch many films, or programmes that weren't recordings of something he really needed to see that no-one in their right mind would spend an evening with. It was a way of living that probably explained the CD collection, which had passed from extensive to excessive several hundred purchases ago.

"Alphabetised historical and theological quarterly journals - bloody hell, René, really? - periodicals, magazines, what is he, the goddamn archivist for the Horribly Useless Section of the Interior? And where the hell are his books? Because I know you read, you fucker," he added, determinedly ignoring how ridiculous it was to be apostrophising René's absence in terms he would never in a million years use to the man himself, "so what do you do? Keep them under your bed?"

A sharp rap on the window showed him Isa, mouth and tongue squashed repulsively against the glass.

"Oh, that's attractive." Olivier rolled his eyes and then laughed when he saw Lissa's hand come up to smack the back of Isa's head. "I left the front door unlocked. Come on in."

"Is there a bear trap and a moat and those funny pointy things buried under the doormat?" Isa asked, hovering just outside the front door and looking ridiculously worried. Olivier rolled his eyes, left the Archive of Uselessness that was masquerading as a living room, and went out into the hallway.

"Yes," he said sweetly. "I re-engaged them all, just for you."

"Get in the door, Isa." Lissa shoved him through. "And wow… can I hire René to clean my house? Or does he have a maid? Not that she's wonderful," she added disapprovingly, "look, there's dust starting to collect on the hall table."

"No… I think he's just painfully tidy." Olivier shrugged. "Goodness knows how he deals with us."

"I thought he said his place was small?" Isa looked around the kitchen. "It's pretty roomy."

"No, it's—" Olivier paused. Actually, Isa was right. With René's absence the place seemed much larger than it had on his previous visit, as if without the force of that edgy personality to command attention, it had expanded.

"Olivier, Isa and me live off our pay," Lissa said with a patience she must have been a very long way from feeling. "And both of us, together, have a heavily mortgaged and somewhat cramped flat where the spare room doubles as a study. I know you come from a completely absurd background that should be banned if we had any real pretence to still being a Republic in anything but name, and yes, your house is utterly ludicrous, we all accept that, but even you must have noticed this is not what you get from the pay for being an Interior agent. The living room on its own would cover most of our square footage, for God's sake!"

"He hasn't won that much money from you on poker nights, Isa…" Olivier tried to joke, but it fell rather flat. They were right. This was way beyond what René earned working for the Interior. But that would mean… No, he refused to believe that René could be on the take. His superiors would surely be on the lookout for things like this, so therefore René must have some other source of legitimate income. "Maybe you looked at this wrong, Lissa. Instead of hiring him as a maid, we should hire him as a stockbroker…."

"Stocks and shares?" Isa looked around him. "Well. If it gets you this, then yeah. Definitely. Lots of." Lissa was staring at him, and he blinked back down at her. "What?"

"Isa. This is the house of a man with a very very scary mind. I don't want one."

"What, a scary mind?" Isa grinned. "Sorry, darling. Too late."

"Alright, alright. Why don't you two get started on the back garden and I'll finish in here and then come join you?" Olivier chuckled. "He left you beer, Isa."

"I always did like René…" Isa chuckled and then pulled Lissa towards the door.

Olivier, left to himself in the now thoroughly analysed and as a result rather creepy-feeling house, found himself laughing at the last. Yes, Isa did like René, oddly and unconditionally, in the same way that he had decided to like Olivier, as far back as training. And had taken it upon himself to tell Lissa when to back off, because of it. Nicely, of course, nicely and lovingly and amusingly, but it had been absolute, all the same. René had joined the number of those whom no-one was allowed to criticise but Isa.

"God help the poor bastard," Olivier muttered, and went upstairs to see if there was anything up there that didn't resemble an extended back room of a very bad collector's store.

He took a quick peek in the spare bedroom - second door on the right and straight on 'til morning – and found it much the same as it looked the first time he'd been there.

"And the adjoining bath…" which now had perfectly matching and aligned blue towels, rather than the green that had been there before."And then on to the master suite…."

He opened the door and stopped short, wondering for a moment if this was what Claire hoped for when she walked into their bedroom at night – the tastefully arranged pillows, that perfectly matched the shades of furniture and duvet, the curtains that tied everything into a coordinated whole? He opened the closet door on a whim, seeing, as expected, the suits and shirts arrayed in colour-complementing sets, ties neatly in a rack, shoes with their little fitted trees in position underneath. None of it was a surprise.

But then again, you didn't keep ordinary clothes in a wardrobe. You certainly didn't send them out, as apparently every single shirt had lovingly and individually been, to be dry cleaned.. You didn't hang up t-shirts and jumpers and jeans, and even if you were a completely anal freak with some mental illness that Olivier was half-convinced should be medicated, and had to fold everything symmetrically after thorough ironing, you put them in drawers.

Which were exactly what he'd promised himself he wouldn't go through.

Wincing, he stepped backwards out of the room, feeling like an intruder for the first time, and looked at the other closed doors that led off the hallway.

"Bugger it," he muttered, and settled in for a thorough snoop.

He opened the nearest door and stepped in, then found himself laughing in surprise as he looked around him at the airy room. "So this is where he keeps his books."

Books, lots of, even more meticulously arranged than the CDs downstairs. Books on poetry and philosophy, and philosophy and poetry. Apparently, aside from the periodicals and journals downstairs, that was all René read. He thought of his own bookcases, where John Grisham battled with Ian Fleming and Tolstoy and Yeats, all in a clutter, almost tumbling off the shelves in competition to be the first to hand.

But it was the equivalent here, Olivier realised slowly. It was neat because René was physiologically and psychologically incapable of being anything else - Christ, he had seen the man fight not to flinch when things were out of alignment with a visible straight edge - but it was alive, languages and eras and religions tangled together in a process that could only make sense to their owner.

It was like walking into an ongoing thought process.

There was a book of poetry set at a precise angle on the table next to a very comfy looking chair. It was near enough to the window that natural light could be used during the day, but far enough back that the person in the chair would not be seen from outside. The book's title was in German, but the author was Brecht, and Olivier wondered if it was the same as the one René had lent him.

There was a badly-knitted jumper over the back of the chair, neatly folded in half but somehow tellingly vulnerable in that even so, it was out of shape and impossible to align with any accuracy, and even so, it was a very definite fixture, the blue of it faded in parts almost to grey.

One personal thing. One personal thing in the whole damn stark unornamented house, and it was an entire story waiting to be heard - not the books, or the incredibly, frighteningly high-tech computer with all the money that implied, not the spare glasses case laid neatly beside the keyboard, not the fact that the window looked over the garden, where Lissa and Isa were puzzling over a complicated-looking little arrangement of small bushes - all of that, all of that could belong to anyone. But not the jumper.

That belonged to the man Olivier was starting to realise he was going to have to fight tooth and nail to be allowed to know.


In most respects, Isa thought, looking around him, their flat wasn't all that bad. Not roomy like René's house or a gigantic monstrosity like the one Olivier owned, but comfortable and tidy and… well, he liked it in any case. Not that he'd had anything to do with its choosing, since Lissa had already owned it when they met. Or rather Lissa and the bank had owned it. It wasn't until he'd been living with her for over a year that the ownership duet had expanded to a trio. It was situated on the Rue Sedaine, which was close to the hospital where Lissa worked and not so far from his own Sûreté offices that he minded the commute too much.

He sighed and wondered who he was trying to convince with his list of benefits. It wasn't much of a place really, not half as much as Lissa deserved, but probably the best she'd get as long as she was willing to have him in her life. Not that she ever complained about money being tight or not having things that other women her age took for granted, but he did occasionally wonder why she'd given up the well-to-do doctor she'd been dating and decided on a younger, barely-making-it, not-yet-out-of-uniform police officer.

If he'd stayed in psychology, had his own practice and a plate on a door somewhere, have a book to his credit and a list of wealthy or at least notable patients, then he would have understood more readily why she had decided he was exactly what she needed in her life. Admittedly, it didn't sound very complimentary to her when he put it as baldly as that, but it was something people did, wasn't it, noticed brilliance and responded to it?

They certainly didn't usually pin their lives to someone ten years younger and with a surface inability to stick to a career that had made even de Treville ask him if he knew what he was doing when he applied for his transfer.

But he knew what he had been doing wasn't what he wanted, just as he knew that Lissa was. He'd met her at the hospital while he was starting out in Narcotics – he'd been sent there to spend the graveyard shift getting a victim's statement, and she had been the on-duty that night. Even through his haze of tiredness and bad caffeine and general jaundice at the world, she had been the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, her skin and hair all dark-shading ebony and somehow glowing under the harsh lights of the hospital, with expressive eyes that seemed to have real fire in their depths as she told him off for harassing her patient, and a contrasting smile that might not have been for him, but would have blinded him even if his attention hadn't already been irretrievably captured. No anorexic teenagers for him, he liked his women mature and curved and alive in their own right, and that described Lissa right down to her toes. And damn, she was nervy too, came back at him when he pulled out his badge and told her just what her patient had been up to with a wit that left him breathless. So instead of walking away and carrying a memory with him, he'd pushed his luck and asked her out, wondering even while he did so what the hell he thought he was playing at – because she'd given no signs that she even found him tolerable to speak to, let alone that she wanted to spend any more time in his company than she could help.

He'd expected to be shot down, was almost looking forward to the crash and burn that would at least have let him know just what an idiot he was being, and maybe given him a little pause for thought before he went in for trying to charm another star out of his sphere – but she'd given him an oddly measuring look, and agreed.

He'd asked her, afterwards, why she'd so suddenly become assessing, what she'd been thinking, but she refused to tell him until they were actually living together, putting him off with declarations of having to keep some mystery before he thought he'd got it all.

When she finally told him, they were sitting in her living room – he hadn't been able to think of it as theirs, not even with his worldly possessions surrounding them in half-unpacked boxes – and were both half-drunk on wine and exhaustion and forgetting about dinner until it was too late for anything but a pizza they hadn't particularly wanted.

"Because I knew if I said yes," she'd told him, "I'd be saying yes to a whole different life. And I had to decide if it was worth the risk or if I'd gone insane and it would all just pass if I let it go."

He himself often opted for the 'insane' option, but he was more than grateful that she hadn't. They talked about marriage, or rather he had, but so far she'd just waved the idea away, saying she wanted him to grow up a bit more before they considered it.

"Isa. How do you think René would feel about rosemary?" Lissa looked up from the magazine she was reading and interrupted his thoughts.

"Dunno," Isa said thoughtfully, after a brief and somewhat hysterical moment of wondering whether he knew anyone called that, and if so, why René should feel anything about her at all. Oh, herb,, he thought in relief, and his complete lack of knowledge was almost like an execution pardon, because he did not want to deal with Lissa's matchmaking tendencies with regard to René now, or indeed any time in the foreseeable future. "Does it die off easily? Because otherwise he's going to have to employ you full time..."

"No… it's pretty sturdy and there are several different kinds. If I plant some near the kitchen door he can use it for cooking if he wants." Lissa looked back at her magazine, "And ooh, topiary!" She held up the picture that, as far as Isa could tell, was of a sort of green, fluffy parrot.

"No," said Isa. He wanted to keep having an amazing and strangely fortunate life, thank you, and it would come to a swift and gory end if René came back from whatever he was doing to find that in his garden. "Just no. And no, we're not having it in miniature either."

Lissa blinked at him.

"Okay, so you have strong feelings about leaves," she said, looking a bit confused. "You never mentioned this before."

"I don't think I knew it before," Isa said. "Is it a parrot?"

"A what?" She looked at the magazine and cackled. "Well, yes, I guess it's supposed to be, but no, I wasn't suggesting that for René's garden. And besides, if he did try to kill you we could always boil it up for the Balm of Fierabras, like in Don Quixote."

"Why do I feel a sense of complete dread overcoming me?" Isa asked rhetorically. He wasn't ill-read, exactly. He just never seemed to have read anything that everyone else had, and it often drove him up the wall and straight down the other side to get irritated all over again from the start.

"Because you have to be dead before it works?" Lissa suggested evilly.

"Thanks. That's just..." Isa stared at her. "How do you come up with these things?"

"I didn't," Lissa said, and sniggered. "Apparently it smells awful..."

"So you want me dead and covered in smelly balm? You're a strange woman and I don't think I should encourage your kinks any more, seriously."

"But you love my kinks, sweetie," Lissa batted teasing eyes at him. "You indulge them often enough."

"That was before I found out about the balm," Isa said, widening his eyes. "The balm is very scary and I am now mentally scarred with terrible images, which means you have to be nice to me for ages."

Well, it was worth a try.

"Ages?" Lissa raised an eyebrow. "I don't know if I can manage that. How long is an age in real life terms?"

"Er." Isa thought about it, carefully, and weighed up his chances. "About half-an-hour?"

"You should be so lucky..." Lissa said, but she did put the Book Of Incipient Death And Terror down and come to sit with him, which was, as far as Isa was concerned, one for the win column.

Somehow, he could keep on believing in his good fortune, however incomprehensible it was, as long as he could touch her.


The only thing René was hoping, as he finally got out of the taxi that had generously taken him around every route diversion in Paris before finally depositing him at his front door, was that the house-guests he had quite indubitably been harbouring in his absence had replaced at least some of the contents of his drinks cabinet. Four weeks posing as an in-all-ways-abstemious banker who never even so much as loosened his tie, let alone took of his jacket, even in the growing heat of summer had left him convinced that he must be heading down the road to alcoholism, if only because he could number in the hundreds the amount of times he had longed for a stiff drink.

Or an incredibly spicy meal, involving mostly meat and as little white rice as possible.

Or to be able to wear a t-shirt and the oldest jeans he possessed, confident that there would be no surprise visits to ensure he was on board with the completely dreadful plans that the bank theft organisation had been prepared to explain to him in detail at any hour of day or night, often accompanied by incredibly unsubtle threats.

Or to do all three of these things at once and possibly play a horrible radio station with nothing but the most up-to-date and ghastly music very loudly, just because he could, and because he needed so very desperately to be completely free of the mould he had been forced into so chafingly.

He had been desperate enough to contemplate adding his own variations to the plans by the end, simply out of frustration at how diabolically awful they were. His sole entertainment had been to imagine himself strolling in wearing clothes actually suited to the temperature, kicking off his shoes, and demonstrating at gunpoint exactly why his way would be more successful.

It had at least helped to convince him that he was not in any way as dull as he feared, even if the ease with which he had convinced everyone else that he was had been rather disturbing.

He had been expecting to be greeted with the slightly stale air of a closed-up house in summer, no matter how frequently it had been visited, and perhaps the faint aroma of dust. Instead, the house was pleasantly cool, the shades drawn for evening, and a faint smell of furniture polish in the hallway, the fake lavender not altogether unpleasant after the overwhelmingly foul pine deodoriser of the taxi.

He turned off the alarms automatically as he kicked off his shoes, and tilted his head slightly, listening, not altogether convinced that the house was empty, since it seemed as inhabited as it ever did when he was in occupancy.

But there were no disturbances, not even the slight shift in air that betokened another person breathing, and he shook his head at his own imagination, before sitting down on the stairs to take off his socks and tie. The socks he balled up in his hand, ready for the laundry hamper, and the tie was hung neatly over the newel at the bottom of the banisters.

He put his jacket in the hallway cupboard, and shrugged out of his holster, walking towards the laundry room with the holster hanging from one hand and his socks still in the other, relishing the feel of the cool ridges of wood and stone flagging beneath his feet as he crossed from the hallway to the kitchen.

The kitchen was immaculately neat, but had evidently been used, the chairs slightly misplaced from their usual arrangement, and a chopping board still drying in the rack. There was a faint aroma of cigarettes in the air, but they had been of a good enough brand for the smell not to be acrid, rather giving an oddly familiar, lived-in feel to the room that was irritating and comforting at once.

He put the socks in the hamper, and snorted as he saw the note on the top, the handwriting unfamiliar and slightly sprawling, the marks of someone unconcerned with how it looked and only focused on getting the message down as soon as possible.

'Figured you'd head here first. Yes, we replaced the beer. And everything else. We cleaned the gardening tools, and yes, we rearranged your entire spice shelf unalphabetically. Ha.'

No signature, but from its slightly mocking tone, René guessed it had to be Olivier, who had received his own note, and had been amused enough by it to mimic the style, if not the content.

René neatly folded the note, but rather than putting it in the trash he tucked it into his back pocket for some reason that he didn't wish to examine too closely. He had let people into his house, it wasn't much of a step to admit he was letting them into his life as well…at least as much as he was able.

He stripped off his shirt, dropping it into the washer, along with the rest of the dirty clothes from his bag, and started it cycling before walking back towards the kitchen. The rest of his clothes could be sent out to the cleaners the next day.

He padded upstairs, wondering whether it was worth doing anything with the banker's suit trousers other than possibly burn them, and then laughed at himself for an idiot as he realised that, personal gratification aside, it might be wise to take the note that he had decided to uncharacteristically keep out of them if that was his end goal.

"I should get a cat," he muttered, standing in his immaculate bedroom and thinking that he should have brought that drink upstairs with him, since what he wanted now was a shower, and that meant delaying the unwinding ritual he usually went through.

Apparently, all it took was a simple little papery piece of evidence that someone had been in his house, and his set routine went all to hell.

"Fuck's sake," he muttered savagely, pulled out the folded note from his back pocket, and threw into the drawer of his bedside table. He went to have a decidedly brutal and not at all soothing shower that nonetheless knocked a good deal of the impending panic out of him with the sheer force of the powered water.

It was the first time, he reflected, coming out of the steam-filled room in his bathrobe and scrubbing at his head with a towel, that he had even smelled like himself in weeks, let alone felt as though he belonged to anything recognisable.

He pulled on a ratty t-shirt that he usually reserved for the gym and cases of three a.m. insomnia, some elderly jeans that had seen a great many better days, and decided that footwear could go and hang itself from the nearest tree if it wanted, but he was damned if he was bothering to find something appropriately comfortable.

He was headed for the drinks cabinet when the doorbell rang.

"Oh, hell…" He thought about ignoring it, but that concept was far too foreign for him to manage – doors and telephones must always be answered. If it were someone selling something, though, they would swiftly find the door closed in their face.

"Yes? Oh…Isa." He blinked, readjusting his expression to one that was hopefully a little more welcoming, even if his emotions were nothing like.

"You are home. Thought you would be. I brought more beer."

René stared at the man on his doorstep, mentally whimpering at the thought of the thoroughly unwanted company. But - damn - somehow he couldn't just close the door on him. And this? This was what came of letting people in, they showed up at your house at the most inconvenient times.

"I don't want beer," he said rather pathetically.

"Yeah, okay, but I do, because otherwise I can't drive home and not get pulled over on a charge that most people would love to give me," Isa said reasonably.

"If you drink all the beer that's in the fridge and then your beer, you'll get pulled over anyway," René started, wondering how the hell he ended up in conversations like these in the first place, and then gave up. "Why am I even trying? Have at it. Drink beer. Why you need to be here to drink it is beyond me, but who am I to question these things?"

"Well, we drank up all yours when we were cutting the lawn so…" Isa pulled a beer out of the pack and then opened the refrigerator to put the rest inside. "But…oh… Olivier already replaced it, I guess. Sure you won't have one?"

"Positive." René said with feeling. "Look, Isa, I just got home, and I'm too tired to be much company. Why are you here?"

Isa reached into a drawer and pulled out the bottle opener with the movements of someone who was far too familiar with where things were kept in his kitchen for René's comfort. He leaned back on the counter and took a drink of his beer and then stared at René for a long moment before he spoke, "I need to talk to you."

"Well, yes, apparently you do, I am assuming that and can in fact see that, but why? And why now?" René fought to keep the whimper out of his voice.

Isa grinned at him. "Because you're tired, and you've got no defences right now because I let you have time to shower them off, and your gun's in your bedroom so you can't shoot me."

"I have another one in the drawer behind me, and there's always the kitchen equipment if I get desperate," René said absently, and then - "Sorry, what are you talking about?"


"We're talking about we - we - oh God, I need a drink." René reached for the freezer door and grabbed the ice tray, heading for the living room. "Please make some sense, Isa. Or tell me you're on drugs. Either would be reassuring right now." He dumped the contents of the ice tray into the little wooden ice bucket, and grabbed at the cubes randomly to put in a glass. It did not reduce his irritation to discover that the glasses, too, were dust-free. Adding a healthy amount from the nearest bottle, which proved, thankfully, to be scotch rather than the neat gin he had been almost expecting given the way his day had gone, he took a long swallow, and then said grimly, "Elucidate. Now."

René watched Isa's face grow suddenly solemn, in contrast to his bright red shirt which today was emblazoned with a large orange man-shaped creature and the words, "It's clobberin' time!"

"I want to talk to you about Claire. I'm….concerned."

"About Claire?" René was completely confused now. Isa didn't even seem to like Claire, why would he be concerned about her?

"Sort of," Isa said, picking at the label on his beer bottle. René resisted the urge to smack at his fingers, as tiny little shreds of damp paper stared to fall to the floor. "Look, hell, I just thought - you work with her."

"And as such I cannot possibly discuss her," René agreed, the back of his neck prickling with faint alarm. Was this some kind of test of his trustworthiness?

"This has nothing to do with her job…" Isa pulled a long strip of the label off and sat it on the counter top. He took a deep breath. "Look, it's no secret that I don't like her. Olivier knows and I dare say that Claire knows. But she's Olivier's wife and I've put up with far worse things to keep a friend."

He stopped there and René barely resisted flapping a hand at him to encourage him to continue. "And?"

"And Olivier is my friend, one of the best…"

René sighed. "Isa, I know this. I'm not as obtuse as I obviously seem to you, but you must understand that even outside the job, I cannot, I cannot discuss what I do or do not think or feel about the agent who works with me as my partner. No more than if I came to you, concerned for reasons of my own with regard to Olivier, you could tell me very much as to what you thought of him." He scowled. "Well, you probably would, but that truly isn't a recommendation, believe me."

"It's not. About. Her work." Isa said with emphasis. "Or what you think of her. I've got more sense than to ask any of that. What I want to know –"

René ran a hand over his head. "Is this about Olivier's jealousy?" he asked bluntly.

"No," Isa said. "Or yes…but not exactly."

"Wonderful, yes…that's very informative." René rolled his eyes. "What are you asking me, Isa?"

Isa scowled in the general direction of the shelves behind René. "Look, I know Olivier comes across as this horridly jealous and possessive idiot when it comes to her, but damn it, I know he has reason. He hasn't caught her and neither have I, but…. I just know."

"Are you asking me," René asked carefully, "if Claire is unfaithful, or are you asking me if she is having an affair, or are you asking me if she has slept with other men besides Olivier? Because this might not be an area you want to look into all that carefully, Isa. It might not even be something that anyone - including Olivier, and certainly not you – wants to admit they know about. And some of that is a discussion I can have with you, and some of it is one that I can't even allow you to start. So be very careful and decide what exactly it is that you want to know." He took another swallow of his drink, listening to the silence as Isa decided which path he wanted to pursue, and whether it was going to be worth it.

He hoped that Isa would choose wisdom, and silence, and accept that this was not something René could in all conscience discuss, but he knew that that was a faint hope indeed, and one which he himself had almost erased by giving Isa the clues as to what he really needed to be asking, rather than, as he should have, calling the conversation to a halt as soon as Isa hinted at where it might be going.

Claire was his partner. He liked no more than Isa or Olivier would the things she sometimes had to do, but he, too, would behave as the Interior ordered, play the part he was assigned, and immerse himself in that part as deeply as he had to. Her ability to function as an agent often depended on not thinking about what that cost her in terms of personal morality or what it might make people call her if they didn't know the frequent why of it – and he wanted to protect her from judgment for the simple reason that if Isa were to form his opinion of her based on the things she sometimes had to do, then his opinion of René, who sometimes had to do worse, would lower at the same time.

What he thinks of her he must think of me, he thought, his fingers sliding a little in the condensation on the glass as he gripped it tighter. And that should not matter, but it does. I admit selfishness. I admit I expected this to happen. I admit I hoped it would not. I admit I do not want to face the outcome now that it is happening.

He was starting to wish he had never come home.

"René," Isa began. "Neither Olivier nor I are idiots. Nor are we so naïve that we can't guess at some of the things that your job has had you do. Olivier accepts that, and far better than I would if it were Lissa, I can tell you. But…"

Here it came, finally, or so René hoped.

"…but I've seen all the clues, René. And not just once and not just the same man. Claire can play charming, but she's not what you'd call a casual flirt. If she flirts there's more behind it than just a bit of eyelash batting."

René looked at him narrowly. "You're asking me if you're right – no. You're asking me to confirm what you already know. If I do - if I do, Isa, then what do you need me for other than your own private yes-man? Because I must tell you, this is not a role I enjoy being cast in, and I have had a very long few weeks in which to have thoroughly disliked being cast in any role at all."

"You didn't know about the rings," Isa said inconsequentially, and René threw his hands up in despair.

"Jesus Christ! No, I didn't, but what does that mean? That she doesn't wear them to work, and why should that matter –"

"Because she has them on when she leaves the house," Isa said intently. "And she's not wearing them by the time she gets to work. Come on, you're a fucking spook, René, what does that tell you about her mind set? If you had to be her, live her life, do as she does, think as she does, what does it tell you? And what, for fuck's sake, do you think it's telling Olivier?"

"Oh -!" René felt for a moment what Olivier must have been feeling for a very long time. It made his voice even wearier the next time he spoke. "And what if I did tell you? What would you do? Would you confront Olivier with it? Try to make him cast aside the woman he loves because of it? He'd not thank you for the confirmation, I'm sure."

"No," Isa looked down at his mostly forgotten beer bottle. "I repeat, René, I'm not an idiot. I do know better than to try to come between a man and his wife, even a bitch like Claire. But knowing would help me figure out exactly what is going to happen when he does find out, so I can do damage control. I want to protect him and keep him from doing something that we both know he'd regret."

"Isa..." René closed his eyes for a moment, trying to marshal his disordered, wing-beating thoughts into words that would make sense to a friend, not sound like a verbal report. "There are a lot of good reasons you shouldn't be talking to me about this, and the Interior's just one of them – no, hear me out, okay? I have to at least pretend that I'm ignorant of what Claire is doing when she's not working. I have to, because I cannot afford to doubt the person who covers my back. And if I start to question her, if I start to judge her, then I lose my faith in her. I've been – Christ, grateful isn't the word, believe me, I've been beyond measure thankful for the friendship that you've all offered me, but can't you see I stay at a remove because I must? And already –" He drew a long breath, thinking of his warning to Claire after he had been given the bank assignment, and hers to him. "I've already crossed the line on that score. I've already shown I notice. And my life is not an interesting one, and it's not the grand bloody blaze of passion that Olivier's created for himself, and it's not – it's probably not anything you'd value, but it's mine, and you can't just walk in here and ask me to give it all up because things aren't as they should be. I don't know how you can possibly protect anyone from this kind of fallout. And I don't have names or dates or times to give you to help you build a barrier. I'm sorry. I'm no use to you at all."

Isa looked him up and down, then sighed and sat his beer down on the countertop next to the strips of label. "Okay… I guess I understand that. I hate it, but I understand it."


"But please, don't duck out on us when this all hits the fan." Isa's expression was uncharacteristically tense. "Olivier's going to need all the friends he can get. Stay neutral at least?"

"You bloody fool," René said wearily, and set his glass down on the polished top of the cabinet without caring what kind of mark it would leave. "What makes you think I'm remotely capable of that?"

He didn't wait for Isa to ask him what he meant by that, walking towards the wide glass doors and pushing them open, breathing in the warm night air and the last heavy scents of evening as though it were the purest oxygen, filling his lungs with the deep richness of his garden, and shutting everything else out.

"Go home, Isa," he said to the softly blurring shadows in front of him. "Go home."

"Yeah… enjoy the beer," Isa growled and stalked toward the front door. Then he paused, as if he couldn't leave without saying one more thing. "That's the worst thing about stuff like this – all the collateral fallout. We'll all be there for Olivier, but if you walk away… Well, it would hurt Lissa and Kitty…..and me."

There was a sharp click in the sudden silence, as Isa closed the door behind him.

"Interesting," René murmured, stepping out onto the patio, and tilting his head up to look at the few stars visible in all the light pollution from the city, "that you think I would make the choice which renders that a consideration I would need to take into account."

He smiled savagely at the pinpricks of light.

When it appears to you where this begins,
Turn your displeasure that way: for our faults
Can never be so equal, that your love
Can equally move with them. Provide your going;
Choose your own company, and command what cost
Your heart has mind to.

"Oh, Claire," he said with real sorrow. "Damn you for making me choose what I never asked for."


We always long for the forbidden things, and desire what is denied us.
- Francois Rabelais


Claire was home. Olivier knew it as soon as he pulled up in the driveway. Madame Grimaud, their housekeeper, would normally have opened the door with a smile when he arrived, but today all he got was a brief nod, half-way to a curtsey as she let him in. Claire did not care for Grimaud, but she'd been Olivier's housekeeper for too long for him to let her go.

His second clue was the waft of perfume when he went up the stairs. It was a heavy scent, but not unpleasant, sandalwood and amber and musk. It was a new one, probably very trendy and expensive since that was the way that Claire's tastes ran, but it didn't matter. Every scent she wore was essentially the same.


"Bath," she called back cheerfully, and there was a faint sound of splashing to confirm it. "Darling, there's some white wine in the fridge that I opened, bring it up, would you?"

Olivier, who hadn't heard her sound that happy about anything in months, blinked a bit, then reversed his steps and made his way to the kitchen.

He opened the large fridge and stared into it, forgetting for a moment what he was looking for, before drawing out the stoppered bottle and becoming even more confused. Instead of it being one of Claire's rare and expensive purchases, it was one of his own cellar, which meant she had been home long enough to chill the wine.

That made the bath a luxury, not a necessity, and Olivier's confusion was replaced with hope for intent.

Planting the bottle snugly in a bucket of ice and laying a cloth over his arm, he grabbed two glasses and went up the stairs and into the bath.

"Would milady like her wine in the bath, or the boudoir?" he asked as he walked in, smiling at the sight of her covered in bubbles like a 1940's pin-up girl.

"Do I have to choose?" she asked, pouting a little, and then her eyes widened a little. "Olivier, what have you been doing? Sunbathing for a living?"

Olivier drew in a breath to start defending himself, before he recognised that there had been nothing either accusatory or disapproving in her voice, rather an attention that had been given to him very little of late, and was all the more welcome for it.

"Just a bit of gardening, darling. I need things to keep me occupied when you're gone, so I don't worry as much." He said the last bit conversationally, the endearment a mockery of his own behaviour as much as anything else, and one that got him a renewal of the amused little smile. It was strange to feel that he was getting it right, and stranger still to realise that he did so best when he was denigrating himself most thoroughly. "It's been unusually bright and sunny the last few weeks. Even for early summer, now I think about it."

She wouldn't know that, of course, or she might. It was always hard to know since he wouldn't ever know where she had been.

"So I see," Claire said with a little appreciative grin, looking him up and down. "I suppose it's too much to hope for that you were doing the gardening naked?"

Olivier had a sudden horrendous thought of firstly what Isa would have said and secondly what would have happened if René had come back in the middle of Isa saying it while he stood in the background and provided the study for some very bad Edwardian porn, and closed his teeth on a whimper. "Er, yes."

"Too bad…" She reached a hand out of the bubbles and toward him. He took it with a smile. "No, Olivier. The wine?"

"Oh… of course." He released her hand and went to pour her a glass. "It was very relaxing though. Hands in the earth and all that Zen and integrated and actually pretty great excuse for throwing mud at Isa kind of thing. Lissa gave me a book, too, so as to make sure I didn't plant cactus in the water or anything." He had actually been digging a pond at the end of the garden in which to put the strange collection of plants in buckets that Lissa had got cheap, hence the chance to throw dirt at Isa, but he didn't think he needed to tell Claire that. When it came down to describing what he'd been doing, it seemed oddly...excessive, for someone who had just intended to spend a few afternoons taking advantage of free beer and a sun lounger.

"I'll assume that's a very bad thing to do to a cactus," Claire said a bit dryly, and Olivier took as the warning it was to shut up about something that didn't interest her at all. He handed her the wine with a faintly apologetic smile, and took the opportunity to run a finger down her neck, clearing away the patch of foam that was there. She shivered under his touch, looking up at him through heavy eyelids.

"On second thoughts," she said, putting the glass down, "the wine can wait..."

"Oh? And what did milady have in mind instead?" Olivier chuckled softly. God he hoped he could keep her in this mood. It was so much like the old Claire, the one he had first met. The one who could have drive and ambition, but still liked to spend a lazy afternoon in front of the fire as long as it was with him. He missed that Claire so very much. He still loved her, even with the changes, but she just didn't seem happy with him so much of the time, and he had no clue how to fix that.

"Certainly not the bath," Claire said with a faint laugh. "I think we proved that really never works."

She looped her wet arms around his neck, resting her weight on his shoulders, her eyelashes so close that they brushed his face. Over her shoulder, he could see the line of her spine, traced with bath oil and water drops, somehow unbearably vulnerable and erotic at once in the pale curve and shadow of it. He slid one hand up over that smooth skin, tracing the line, and touched with the flat of his fingers the knob of bone at the base of her neck that she had once, long ago, talked of getting tattooed, in the days when he had first met her and she didn't care about identifying marks.

She drew in a breath so sharply that he felt the cold of it touch his ear, her body arching slightly towards his as he stood up, bringing her with him.

"God, you're beautiful." He could say that. Complimenting her looks was something he usually got right, secure in the knowledge that his honesty, at least in this, could never be doubted. His body always spoke for him.

Olivier gently wrapped a towel around her, before scooping her up and carrying her toward the bedroom. He lay her down on the bed, leaning in to kiss her soft lips, tasting toothpaste and wine in a strange commingling.

I missed you, he wanted to say. Tell me you'll be home for awhile…

But that was wrong. It would be like asking her to give up her career for him, give up what she loved for him, give up what she was truly good at, excelled at, just for him, and he wasn't that selfish, he hoped.

She could say it, though, say that she had missed him again and again as she kissed him, biting the words into his mouth with fierce truth, her damp hair coming down and tangling over both their faces, her eyes dark with a need and desire that he had always been helpless against, always gave way to, never able to resist the undertow of knowing that he could do this to her, he could spark that wild fervour in her and claim it for his own, even as she marked him hers.

My Rubayiat, she had once called him, her own private hymn of ecstasy, her drug, and he knew all over again the joy of the power that could make her burn brighter and higher than the rare nights when they had both tried cocaine, finding it insipid in the end in comparison to what they could create in a world of heated mouths and hands.

The sovereign Alchemist that in a trice
Life's leaden metal into Gold transmute…

This, really, was their one true connection, as it had always been – skin on skin and physicality – tender sentiments transmitted over neural pathways that sang with the electricity borne of the complex combination of earned knowledge and lust.

He took her to the peak, held her as she crashed down, time and again, on the other side, then began it all anew, striving for just one more, another moment of her clutching at him, scratching and calling his name before he could no longer hold back and allowed himself the release he had given her. Then, exhausted, he collapsed beside her, drawing the duvet over their sweat drenched bodies.

He was on the cusp of sleep before he finally heard what she had said.

This, she had whispered. I missed this, God, I missed this, I missed it...

Not you. Not once. And not his name, never Olivier, whether lust-heavied or sharp with the edge of the precipice that came before the long delirious fall through ecstasy.

Not once. Not at all.

Olivier wondered if he had just witnessed the death-throes of their youth. He refused to believe it could be those of anything more.


The next day was decidedly chaotic. De Treville had spyware in his computer because he'd let someone download Copernic onto it from an illegal site, the man who was supposed to deal with all computer problems had resigned first thing that morning, there were five new cases that all seemed to revolve around just how stupid people could be about robbing grocery stores – the items stolen from one particular shop varied from twelve large vats of sunflower oil that was out of date anyway to the entire cash register, and Olivier actually didn't want to know about any of it – and Isa had a hangover, for some unknown reason that he wasn't prepared to discuss, and his hand kept twitching towards the phone in the way Olivier's usually did.

"Fight with Lissa?" Olivier asked him with spurious sympathy, and Isa looked up with an odd kind of wince.

"Yeah, as well," he said miserably.

"As well as who?"

"Every fucking woman I've ever known on the face of the planet," Isa said, and glared at his hand as though it had personally betrayed him, which, Olivier supposed, it had.

He put Isa's problems into the file he had mentally marked long ago as 'Do Not Ask About Ever', and carried on trying to work out why anyone would have targeted twelve vats of sunflower oil in the first place.

"Excuse me? I'm supposed to look at all the computers." A slender man with dark hair and glasses had appeared next to his chair.



"Computer guy."


"Show him your computer. Mine's not even turned on yet." He looked back at the stranger, "See Isa. That's where you will probably find any and all problems. It's inevitable."

Instead of the usual protesting 'Hey!' Isa just sighed tiredly and nodded, getting out of his chair to give the technician free access. He came over and leant on Olivier's desk, right on the report about the incredibly destructive and yet strangely non-life-threatening gun fight that had taken place during the Great Sunflower Oil Robbery.

"Insurance scam," he said after a moment of shoving while Olivier tried to get him to move off the papers without tearing them. Olivier stared at him.

"The what now?"

"The oil thing. Insurance scam."

Olivier looked at the report, looked at Isa, and dropped his head onto the desk. "Of course it is," he muttered to the fake wood veneer. He reached out without lifting his head, crumpled the papers up, and threw them in the vague direction of the bin.

"You look almost as down as I do," Isa ventured. "Let me guess… Claire's home?"

"I'm not in the mood, Isa. Really."

"Coffee… and croissants!" Kitty almost danced into the room, her hair in one long plait that made her look about six, and wearing a short pink sundress which, in combination with the hairstyle, made her look like an incitement to illegal activities. Olivier sighed, tried to think less like one of his potential arrests, and more like a well-educated and aware married man, and thought, somewhat uncharitably, that presumably she had someone new to train whose life she wanted to make thoroughly miserable over the course of one morning shift.

She ignored his determined lack of a stare and Isa's somewhat bleary look of lechery, and plopped a tray of cups and a bag down on Olivier's desk. "Oh boy, what's wrong with you two? You look like you just missed a trip to the circus."

"No, dearest little cat, just someone talked to Lissa last night when they shouldn't have," Isa said in an uncharacteristic growl. The look of contented, if sleepy lechery had been replaced by slow annoyance.

"Oh, fuck off and die in a fire," Kitty said cheerfully. "You asked for it. Next time, leave me the hell out of it or don't tell me you brought me into it in the first place. Also? Gay. So we're not going there."

Olivier really, really didn't want to know. And he wasn't speculating in the slightest as to why Kitty was suddenly implying she had changed her sexual orientation, or whether she was even talking about herself, or what the hell it had to do with calling Lissa, or –

He pressed his fingers into his eye sockets, and tried to stop thinking altogether. It never paid off in these situations.

"What wonderful news," de Treville said from behind Isa, making the big detective yelp and drop his coffee – on Olivier's remaining papers. "Rather than not going there as an end destination, perhaps we could not start the journey? Olivier, you'd better clean that up."

"Yes, sir," Olivier said tiredly. "Right away…"

Really, he was too tired to think about Isa, or Kitty, or even Claire for that matter, right now. He was pushing all of that to the back of his brain and pretending it didn't exist. And maybe, if he pretended hard enough, it would actually disappear.

Yes, and some day, Isa might learn to play poker….

He got some paper towels and just swiped the whole sodden mess off his desk and into the trash bin. It wasn't as if there weren't duplicate and triplicate copies of everything floating around the damn place… or would be if the computers could be made to work.

"You…" Olivier snapped his fingers at the computer tech to get his attention. "What's your name?"

"Bosquet," said the man absently. "Um, did you know there's porn on this computer?"

"Yes," said everyone simultaneously. The man blinked, and went back to typing.

"Okay, Bosquet, tear yourself away from the fascinating pictures, and start debugging, because I need reports. Ones that aren't insurance scams."

"You want me to tell if a report is an insurance scam?" His eyes magnified by the glasses, the man was starting to resemble a distressed goldfish.

"No," Olivier caught himself speaking very slowly, the way you would to a small child or someone of diminished capacity, although why that would help in either instance he couldn't quite figure out. "I just NEED. MY. REPORTS. Okay? Thanks."

He rescued one of the unspilled cups of coffee from the tray and took a drink. "Kitty, I don't care what Isa says… I love you. Really."

"IF MY COMPUTER DOESN'T HAVE AN ABSENCE OF RED-HOT ASIAN BEAUTIES IN THE NEXT FIVE SECONDS, I AM FIRING YOU ALL!" bellowed de Treville from his office, to which he had, somewhat unwisely, retreated in the intervening time between horrifying five years off everyone's life and the latest exposure of Isa's downtime to an uncaring world.

"Yeesh," said Kitty. "Maybe I should have bought him Valium tea."

Olivier chuckled, "Bosquet? Can you set that thing up to hypnotize the Captain? You know, so he'd take a nap? I think he needs one."

"I HEARD THAT." Another bellow.

"Yeesh," Kitty repeated, and reached for her coffee, perching herself on the side of Isa's desk and out of the way as she settled in to watch the potential dramas unfold. The sun came in through the blinds, and striped her face, giving her the look of an old photograph in poster form, the effect heightened by her bare legs and sandals as they swung rhythmically in the crawl space.

"Good God," said a familiar voice from the doorway. "I'd ask if I'd come at a bad time, but since I'm sincerely hoping this can in no way count as a good one, I'm considering the question redundant. For my own sanity."

Olivier had time to register that despite his casual dress and neatly smoothed hair, René looked worse than Isa and as though he'd felt it for longer, before René was stalking across the room and grabbing Isa by his lapels to pin him up against the wall. His eyes, circled by deep brownish shadows of sleeplessness, were narrowed into slits of angry, bloodshot blue, the effect a kind of startling similarity to someone with a broken nose. Olivier, who had actually felt like the Interior agent looked after forty-eight hour sessions of his own wakefulness, winced in sympathy even as Isa's head hit the narrow partition wall with a bang that shook along its length and startled several other members of the department into looking their way. Registering that it was an Isa-based disturbance, they lost interest almost immediately, and turned back to their own concerns, most of which, Olivier rather venomously hoped, were attached to de Treville's computer woes.

"Don't you ever," René said furiously, "ever, ever if you want to keep living, drunk dial my work number again."

"Oh fucking God, tell me I didn't," Isa moaned, limp under René's white-knuckled grasp.

"You did." René confirmed. "And you almost screwed up a meeting that was very important."

Olivier stepped closer, just in case René was angry enough to actually hurt Isa. Of course, then there was the question of which one of them he would help, because he'd had his share of Isa's drunk wake-up calls and they were never pleasant. "He doesn't even remember doing it, René. Seems kind of redundant to threaten him at all, really, considering the hangover he probably has."

"Do I look as though I care?" René demanded. "Isa, listen carefully. I have just had to explain to my superior, my very interested office, the secretary who works down the hall here, an incredibly fascinated Connie, for some god-awful unknown reason – incidentally, how the hell did she know about it? - and now, to add to the horror, you, why it is inappropriate to call a member of the Interior and tell him that the head of archives in the Sûreté cold case department needs to be, and I quote, 'ravished in a stairwell.' By me."

"The head of archives in said department really wouldn't mind," Kitty murmured, stifling a smile. "But she'll settle for lunch some time."

"No, darling, nor would I, and so will I, but I don't want to break off a four a.m. meeting to explain that to a drunken Isa, now do I?" René replied without missing a beat.

Olivier wondered why the hell he had been in a meeting at four in the morning, and then just added it to the list of things he was definitely going to have to prise out of René at some point, because the man seemed to work according to the worst possible hours, and surely that wasn't compulsory?

"Is that why Lissa's mad at me?" Isa asked pathetically, single-minded to the end and indivertible by any train of connecting thought.

"No, Lissa's mad at you because you woke her up at four a.m. to pass her the phone and get her to convince me to do the previously mentioned ravishing and stop shouting at you," René said, releasing him with a sigh. He had obviously come to the conclusion that Olivier was right, and any further display of annoyance was a waste of his time.

"Mr. de la Fère… is it all right if I—" Everyone turned around to stare at Bosquet, who, oblivious to the tension, had wandered up, with a pair of pliers and a screwdriver in his hand. "Oh… sorry. Am I interrupting something?"


"Then I'll just…" Bosquet pointed back towards Olivier's computer… then nervously scurried away.

"I am really, really sorry," Isa said desperately. Olivier got the feeling he was apologising for possibly more than René was outwardly annoyed about. "Seriously. That was out of order, René. I'm really sorry."

"Yes it was," René agreed, but he just looked tired now, rather than angry and potentially homicidal, for which Olivier spared a quick prayer of thanks, because he didn't actually know what René was like when he had thoroughly lost his temper without forward planning as to how it would be directed, and was very certain he never wanted to see the results.

"I think," Olivier said looking back at his desk where Bosquet now had his CPU open and was doing poky things to it with the screwdriver, although how that was going to debug it he had no idea, "that this actually calls for brunch. Isa's treat."

"But –" Isa started, then looked back at René, the faint look of apology returning to his dark eyes. "Yeah, René… how about brunch?"

"Well, as long as it's Isa's treat," René said dryly, and then smiled, the tight, slightly harried look that he had stopped using around them weeks back, and Olivier mentally cursed Isa for returning to him, "why not?"

Olivier smiled and settled one hand on René's shoulder, gripping it lightly and giving him a smile.

"Bring me back a bagel," came a call from the Captain's office, "with lox and cream cheese…"

"Yes, sir," Isa yelled back and then cringed into a look of white-faced nausea, apparently at the sound of his own voice. He really was hung-over.

"We can take my car," Olivier offered then leaned into René with an evil grin. "You can choose the radio station."

"Now, is that you threatening Isa, or you deciding you like my musical tastes?" René murmured back, and when Olivier looked at him, the tight smile had been replaced by a vaguely wry twist that was much more human.

Olivier snorted, not moving away. "Both?"

"And then you can ravish me afterwards," Kitty nodded solemnly, her plait swinging over one honey-coloured shoulder, and catching on the pink strap of her dress to pull it sideways a little and display the fact that she had no tan lines at all. It was a display entirely for René's benefit, though Olivier had the rather unnerving feeling that it was not one she was putting on for the usual reasons.

But there, finally, distracting him from that train of thought quite entirely, there was the laugh he had been trying for, though whether it was at Kitty's dress code or just how stupid they all were or even the thought of ravishment, Olivier couldn't be certain. He just relaxed a little from the tension he had scarcely even been aware he felt, slapped his hand on René's shoulder and pulled him toward the door and the elevator.


René had spent a great deal of time, over the next couple of weeks, convincing himself that offering to host the now regular and rather badly-dubbed Poker Night at his house was something that would be perfectly simple and not that disruptive, while going a bit further towards demonstrating to Isa – who, he was sure, was still sceptical of his intentions despite all loudly voiced guilt and attempts at recompense – just what side he was not overtly choosing.

He had even made sure to invite Connie's husband, who was, despite his excruciatingly dull exterior, always a thoughtful and unpresuming host who actually remembered the things that, left to herself, Connie would have entirely disregarded. He would, René thought in one of his many moments that were best left unshared, have made a quite superlative records agent, had he wanted to be. As it was, he simply entertained when called to do so, remembered everyone's interests well enough for brief and polite conversation, and, apparently, did everyone's taxes at the end of the year.

He also, though René suspected Olivier would have died before admitting it, shared a taste in wines with that evident connoisseur which he was always happy to display and – briefly, before his usual disappearance – discuss.

At the moment though, René was hiding in the kitchen and wishing to God the man had accepted the invitation and brought some sanity to the proceedings. Or impressively not hiding, while adding the last ingredients to a batch of fresh salsa, and trying not to cringe at the amount of noise that Isa and Kitty could apparently make while challenging Lissa and Connie to some kind of cross-country road-rage video game that Isa had dragged in with him, along with his new state of the art video console. The game was almost frightening in its disregard for life, law and individual liberty that made even his little Roman blood fests look tame.

Having also unwisely said that as long as he kept it to anywhere but the living room, Olivier could smoke, he was discovering that the smell of Disque Bleu cigarettes and fresh coriander most decidedly did not mix. Admittedly, Olivier was kindly standing outside the kitchen door while he smoked, presumably in defiance of physics and how well fumes of any kind travelled, but the effect was still mildly nauseating. The distinct lack of breeze from the open window was not exactly helping, but he was fairly sure that turning on the extractor fan would be both ostentatious and rude, and negate all his attempts at being hospitable – so he was suffering, as quietly as possible, and wishing that someone had warned him about coriander and nicotine before he started.

Turning back to the counter, he closed his eyes for a moment, wondering if taking deep breaths would be more or less harmful than attempting not to breath at all. Or if anyone would notice if he just went and shut himself up in his room until the game was over and the winner declared.

"You're really hating this, aren't you?" a soft voice growled near his shoulder.

René, narrowly avoiding stabbing himself with the knife and rendering a trip to A&E the highlight of his horrible evening, directed a glare over his shoulder in place of an answer, and tried to look apologetic and vehemently agree all at once. He suspected the effect was completely demented.

"Possibly," he said after a moment, laughing at himself a little. "Yes."

"Walk?" Olivier suggested, making a gesture toward the outside door.

"I need to finish making this and then see if everyone needs another drink and –"

Olivier picked up the ingredients, dumped them into the bowl with a quick stir and then set it on the kitchen table with the rest of the food.

"It's fine, René. Trust me, this lot won't starve and will get their own drinks." He pointed at the door again, "Walk?"

"Yes," René said, resignedly. He somehow felt an answer in the negative would just result in his being treated as brusquely as the poor salsa, and, being on edge anyhow, would probably react to being manhandled with a great deal less placidity.

Once they were outside in his suspiciously luxuriant front garden – and what the hell had Lissa fed his plants, anyway? – he relaxed enough to feel quite honestly apologetic rather than just making an approximation of it in the name of good behaviour.

"God. I am a terrible host, aren't I?" He suspected it was the understatement of the year.

"Considering that you haven't once told Isa to get his feet off the sofa nor bustled about strategically placing coasters under everything.... I'd have to say no." Olivier chuckled. "It's alright, René. No one expects you to wait on them."

Oliver took him by the elbow and encouraged him toward the walkway and the back garden. "Besides, the idea of these get-togethers is for everyone to have fun, including the host."

"Ah, but what happens when the host is congenitally incapable of having fun?" René asked mockingly. "I thought I'd long grown out of trying to do things that seem like a good idea before actually being put into practise, but apparently –" He shrugged rather helplessly. "It's a rather high price to pay just to have – well, Isa stop looking at me as though I kick kittens for not inviting him over, mostly." He grimaced, knowing it would be unseen in the gloom, having given away rather more of his motives than he had intended to. Apparently coriander and cigarette smoke had a similar effect on him to a high-class truth drug.

Oliver blurted out a laugh, "Oh, God... Isa's 'Eyes of Doom' not fall for those or you'll wind up doing all kinds of things you never in your life even thought of wanting to do."

"Yes, I recognise this," René said rather dryly. "Belatedly, and so in a way that is not at all useful, naturally. But I do recognise it." He leant back against the garden wall with a faint sigh, reaching out absently and curling tendrils of clematis around his fingers. "So, other than a misguided sense of pity, which I assure you I am not really in need of, much though I appreciate the rescue attempt – why aren't you doing terrible things to cars, people, and a –" There was an explosion from inside, and he winced. " – city, apparently."

"Well, not that I don't enjoy a bit of senseless carnage for its own sake," Olivier shrugged, "I'm just not in the mood, I guess. Too many other things on my mind and that –" he paused, waving a vacant hand back towards the house, "– that would just irritate it all."

René's fingers clenched around the clematis. "Olivier..." he said warningly, "that was not an invitation to any sort of personal confidence, you know."

Olivier's expression, from what he could make out of it in the light coming from the house, was rather unfriendly. "What on earth made you think I wanted to make one?" he asked, and René snapped off the tendrils with a faint flinch.

"Ah," he said meaninglessly. "My apologies. Then what -?"

"Just this latest case we're working, Isa and I." Olivier shook his head. "It doesn't seem to bother Isa, but I just can't get it out of my head. Too much – I don't know – just too much. Isa seems to be shaking it off, but...I'm not."

Olivier gave a shrug and absently patted his pockets, looking for another cigarette.

"They're in your back pocket," René said without thinking, and wished he could bloody well stop noticing everything like that, before someone, justifiably, punched him in the nose. Considering the mood Olivier was apparently in, he suspected that moment might be approaching rapidly.

Olivier didn't seem to be annoyed, though, more amused as he pulled out the rather battered packet. "Thanks. And I'm wondering – how much of that twitching in there was because you keep having to pick up the habit yourself, and how much of it was hating the smell?" He flicked his lighter, and paused, not touching the flame to the little cylinder as he waited for René to answer.

"Nice evasion, great delaying tactic, and you know the answer or you wouldn't have asked," René said a little grimly. "Why is it too much? And before you go off on another tangent, I feel bound to point out to you that the havoc being caused in there is apparently how Isa shakes it off, so you're at least quieter about it than him, if nothing else."

"It's a homicide." Olivier shrugged. "Done meticulously and cold-bloodedly... and I can see myself in every step. Have seen it, actually. I was a sniper when I was in the army." He lit the cigarette and took a long draw before he continued. "This one was face to face and more personal, but it takes a certain kind of person to do something like that. I know it all too well."

"So someone's going around shooting people long-distance?" René asked in his blandest voice, guaranteed to irritate anyone out of incipient self-analytical gloom and into homicidal mania. "My God. And here I am, working for our country's security, and no-one told us about this retired sniper from the Special Forces who's lost his mind and is now murdering people all over Paris as a means of light relief. It's really shocking, the way information lines are failing these days."

Olivier choked on his cigarette, and started coughing. René patted him on the shoulder, not even trying to conceal his smile.

"Never mind," he said kindly. "I'm sure no-one really thinks it's you..."

"It's not a sniper," Olivier croaked out eventually, and glared at him. René raised his eyebrows.

"But you said it was someone like you," he said innocently.

"Asshole..." Oliver coughed again. "The similarity is not in the physical execution, but the way of thinking behind it. I could have done it though... just the same way. I can understand the mindset of the murderer and – I'm not a very nice person, René."

"Because you can understand the mindset of the murderer?" René stared at him. "Olivier, I am employed to understand the mentality of drug barons, murderers, fraudsters, and the general gutter-scrapings of most of Europe, and then I convince them I am just like them. The only bloody thing you know is what someone felt like when they killed someone else, and what it took in planning for them to get there. And you're quite probably wrong, while you're at it. Besides," he added somewhat gratuitously, "I never thought you were a nice person. So don't worry. No illusions shattered."

Olivier stared at him for several long moments, finishing off his cigarette and stubbing it out on the bottom of his shoe before he spoke again, "Now that is what makes you a lousy host, René. You're supposed to humour your guests."

"No-one ever tells me these things," René said sorrowfully. "I don't think I can. Would you like me to try? I expect I can come up with all sorts of fascinating ways to describe my horror at the concept that you aren't nice. I may need the thesaurus, though, if you really want me to expand on the subject. Or you could distract me from my appalling quest for confabulation by telling me what, exactly, this case is. Or not exactly, if you can't," he said quickly, before he could be subjected to a lecture on how he wasn't the only one who couldn't discuss every detail of his work.

"It's murder." Olivier shrugged. "The people involved are far past caring what's said about them." But René noticed that it took him a few more long moments before he continued speaking. "It was just so cold, so... arranged. The bodies placed precisely to form some kind of perfect tableau. The killer was making a point, although we're not yet certain what that point was."

René, however, had managed to get his brain stuck on one rather important fact that Olivier hadn't really covered before. "Wait, slow down," he said. "Bodies? What, they're being stockpiled? He's making a tableau of decomposition? What the fuck, Olivier? That's not homicide, that's - how many bodies, for Christ's sake?"

"Two... always two."

"Always? How many have you found?" René's question was sharp, almost snapped out.

"Three that we're sure are the same perpetrator... maybe two others."

"Jesus," said René, genuinely prayerful. "And this has been kept out of the papers? De Treville's impressive." He rubbed at his lower lip, hunting for a good way of saying what he was thinking, and then gave up and went for blunt honesty. "What the hell is he doing putting you and Isa on it? You're supposed to be – well, dealing with sunflower oil is supposed to be the highlight of your week, isn't it?"

"We're part of a team," Olivier said a bit stiffly, obviously just as insulted as René had suspected he would be. "And I think. I know. It's Isa they want working on it, because of the –"

"The psychology, right, but they must have other people who can do that!" René was genuinely horrified, and not because, as he was sure he was implying, he thought either Isa or Olivier were incompetent or so lacking in experience that they would make errors. But Christ! What was de Treville playing at, to bring two detectives with only months of actual qualification behind them onto a case like this?

"Trial by fire, I dare say..." Olivier ventured, doing that odd pocket patting again, as if he'd forgotten that he'd slipped his cigarettes back into the same pocket they'd been in previously. "I'd do it if I were him. See if we have what it takes on something high profile but where we have plenty of backup to make sure we don't miss anything."

He finally found the crumpled pack again, and tapped one out, "Or not. What the fuck do I know?"

"Not nearly enough about the press, for a start," René said rather grimly. "Come with me. I can't help you with catching your psychotic, but I can damn well show you how to keep the world from finding out that you're looking for one."


It was different, this being invited into René's study as a guest rather than snooping in on his own - different but no less confusing. The room had not changed appreciably since his stealthy visit in René's absence. There were a few books and papers on the desk that had not been there before, and the computer, its screensaver – a marquee image of the time and date scrolling endlessly across the surface - hiding anything of real importance, was up and running. But with René's presence in the room it took on a whole different feel, as if it only truly came to life at those times, its quiet reserve falling away.

René gestured him towards the comfortable-looking chair nearest the window, and Olivier tried not to smile as he realised that it was probably not just René trying to remember his manners, but a sure and certain conviction that Olivier wasn't going to be able to stop himself from smoking. Which was true enough, so he supposed he couldn't really fault the man.

"How much do you know about the major reporters?" René asked. The odd anger that had fuelled him in the garden had almost completely vanished now – no, Olivier thought, not vanished, it had been subsumed, used as a different kind of fuel altogether – and his voice had lost its edge, back to the usual soft tones that had become as familiar to him as Isa's northern twang.

"Not much," he said honestly. "I've never dealt with them, and I –"

"Don't read the papers, yes, Claire might have mentioned that a couple of thousand frustrated times," René said, a little sharpness creeping back into his voice. Olivier was oddly pleased to hear it. René's interest was unnerving enough when shown without the kindly, muffling barriers of his usual polite reserve, but when it was being delivered in the even cadences of a particularly well-designed robot, it was outright terrifying.

"It's easier." He gave a shrug. "I prefer to form opinions of my own rather than have them...guided."

And that, he thought, was what newspaper reporters did. Television reporters, in his opinion, were little more than actors that tried to sincerely convey the latest government dustup or which sports team had a drug scandal. But newspaper reporters... they were always there, poking, prodding and ... well he didn't have a lot of use for them at all.

"Don't we all," René muttered. He sounded rather bitter about it. "Here." He pulled out a large folder from his filing cabinet, and handed it over to Olivier. "There's one prime example for you. Armand du Plessis, aiming for a Nobel Prize and doesn't care who he drags down as long as he's got someone he can aim for while he gets his story. And as soon as de Treville's gagging order is lifted – and it will be – he'll be after your team." René's blue eyes were at odd with his cool voice, intent and worried. "You and Isa are unknown quantities. He'll hope he can get to you –and he won't stop at the obvious when he tries. Bribery's never, ever a given. But blackmail bloody well is, and he'll use it without even thinking."

Thoughts whirled through Olivier's head at that. Although his own reputation meant very little to him, he was fiercely loyal to family and friends. There were some things he'd done in the past that if brought to light, could hurt some of them, he was sure.

And then there was Claire. Claire and things he didn't want even to consider, truths that he was afraid to discover. Things that made it even more clear to him why this particular series of homicides struck so close to home.

Seeing himself as the murderer, killing his wife and leaving her in some elegant and still beautiful pose, so that her spite or neglect could never hurt him again... That was the stuff of nightmares, and the sure knowledge that he would soon be dead and completing the other half of the tableau made it no easier, no less painful a thought.

"How..." He looked at René, pulling his thoughts back to the surface. "How do I avoid him?"

René's laugh had absolutely nothing to do with amusement, even of the twisted variety that was more usual with him. "If you work that out, let me know. I find hiding helps temporarily, but then again, he's at least forbidden to print my name. Or Claire's," he added, a little too casually, his avoidance of Olivier's eyes showing all too clearly that he had guessed at least some of Olivier's thoughts.

Olivier would have given a great deal to be certain that René had no idea of what the rest of his imaginings had been, or just why he had compared himself to their tableau-loving killer. He knew that Isa, for all his perception, would never consider for a second that he was capable of entertaining such thoughts, but René?

I am employed to understand the mentality of drug barons, murderers, fraudsters, and the general gutter-scrapings of most of Europe, and then I convince them I am just like them.

René might not be prepared even to take a guess at what was increasingly occupying his mind, but Olivier had a feeling he would not be surprised by it if he found out.

"So avoidance where possible and - what? - the rest of the time? Just simply keeping my mouth shut whenever possible?" Olivier ventured.

He had never been particularly good at that though, a fact he was certain that Claire would attest to. That was at the heart of the matter though, wasn't it? He could deal with what his wife did for a living, but when he saw it, the deceptions and the trickery, bleeding over into their life together, he just couldn't ignore it. That the occasions where this was happening was growing more frequent, could be proven by the increased frequency of their domestic.... wrangles.

"Learn some set phrases," René said in agreement. "Such as every time you want to tell him to fuck off and die, say 'no comment' instead. Think of it as a kind of code."

It would have been funny, if there had been any humour to it. It should have been funny, damn it, the thought of René saying that with intent to anyone should have been hysterical, but somehow it wasn't. It was just...a grey kind of miserable, another layer of pretence to add to all those he already struggled to remember.

Why did everyone think that pretending made life easier?

"I like this room," Olivier announced suddenly. He wanted something between them that was the truth, no pretence, even if it were something just that simple.

And even if it made him sound like a lunatic, which it probably did if René's bemused expression were anything to go by.

"Er," René said at last. "Good?" He was still giving Olivier a rather odd look. "I'm delighted that you're impressed by my obviously incredible decorating skills." He waved a hand around him at the shelves of books. "You don't actually listen to yourself very often, do you?" he asked, with insulting thoughtfulness. Judging by the faint gleam in his eyes, he was trying for just that effect.

Olivier could feel the tips of his ears going red, "No, apparently not. But then again, I so often don't have anything to say that's worth listening to anyway."

The odd look turned suddenly into a scowl, "Is that your idea then, about dealing with the press? Giving them an overweighing monologue of non sequiturs?"

"Well, it works on you," Olivier retorted, unable to stop himself.

"It damn well wouldn't if I were about to write an article about the inefficiency and laziness of the police," René said with a flick of his fingers. "What would you say if I told you that your history as a sniper was bringing your team into question? Say 'yes, you're perfectly right, I'm hopeless anyway' and wander off to resign? I let you get away with self-denigration, Olivier, I don't actually enjoy listening to your maunderings, find them witty, or in fact consider your particular brand of self-mockery any kind of defence at all. And Armand will crucify you where you stand if you can't do better than that. I must have at least one failing you're aware of, bloody well use it! I'm about to give you all of his on a plate, but if you can't take them for weaponry, then I might as well not bother."

Olivier gave an explosive huff of a breath, "You mean like the fact that you can't seem to relax and get away from work related issues, even though that is the whole point of us being here today? Or the fact that I can't really insult you because you won't fucking let anyone close enough to know anything about you outside of the obvious? Things like you're overly tidy, and incredibly good with handling money... or that you have wonderful taste in everything but jumpers?"

René blinked. "I don't think I can give you any information about du Plessis' taste in jumpers," he said rather vaguely. "It's probably perfect anyway. But the handling money thing you could use. Or something similar. And try not to sound so annoyed, that's another weapon for him, not one for you."

"I wasn't – actually – thinking – about – du Plessis," Olivier grated out.

"Oh." René rubbed a thumb between his eyebrows. "I thought you were practising. You know, using me as an exa – jumpers?" he repeated, sounding confused this time rather than vague.

"Well... unless someone else left that here." Olivier pointed at the maligned article. It was still as he remembered it, rather bluish and grey, with oddly asymmetrical stripes and rather misshapen, as if the person who made it wasn't terribly certain if it was going to turn out to be a scarf or a sweater or something all together else.

"Oh," René said again, but in a completely different tone of voice. It wasn't his superior one, that made Isa howl and throw things at him, or possibly try and scruff him like a cat; or his neutral 'keep off the grass' one that generally tended to even make Kitty back off. It was an almost involuntary sound, not surprised as much as sad, a little adjustment of awareness to something that was obviously so much a part of his existence that he didn't even really notice it any more.

"Seriously, René, you don't actually wear that, do you?" Olivier asked a bit blankly. René didn't seem the type for sentiment, so it was highly unlikely that he would be holding on to something a well-meaning relative had made for him, even if it were lovingly crafted by his nearest and dearest in a war zone, using black market wool just for him.

"It's warm," René said, not-quite an answer, and not quite a refutal, either.

"Yes," Olivier said. But that's no answer.

"Comfortable too, I dare say, but not your usual style at all." Come on, René, give me something...anything. "A gift perhaps?"

He waited for the inevitable shut down, the wall that was usually thrown up so fast that it was amazing his nose wasn't looking battered from the number of times he'd hit it.

"I – no. Well, yes, but –" René stopped, and laughed. "It was raining. So she got it out from the back of the car – I'm sorry, I'm not making any sense. A woman called Anne Bordeaux made that. She died before I could return it." His hand went out, and touched the old wool gently. "She didn't make it for me, obviously. I think she made it for Richard – he certainly seemed to have enough of the damn things, but –" He stopped again.

Now it was Olivier's turn to step back, wondering if he'd trod irrevocably on René's toes with his question. "A friend then? I can see why you kept it."

But it still seemed unlike René...or at least the René that he had been allowed to see. It made him wonder which of the two was the truth.

"I think she might have come to be, yes," René agreed. "You didn't actually make what most people would call friends with Richard, but yes, I think I would have liked to know her better. There was an infinite...wealth in her, and I was so utterly –"

"Are you two going to sit up here all night?" Kitty demanded loudly from the doorway. She was flushed from shouting at the game, and holding a beer in each hand. "I got sent to fetch you. Or lure you. Something you."

"Oh good, I love being somethinged," René said with an eye roll, whatever he had been about to say completely lost as he got up and went over to retrieve the offered drink.

So, Olivier thought as he took his own beer from Kitty, he now had two names from René's past and a tiny slip of information that might or might not be the beginning of... of what? He had no idea. But even as small as the slip was, it left him craving more, even if it was just the end of that sentence, even if it was one little verb that could provide some kind of key to whatever it was that kept René so inviolable behind his walls – walls that Olivier was beginning to loathe, and damn it! He was going to be friends with René d'Herblay if it took him a lifetime to manage.


...Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.
- Victor Frankl.


Isa was not, as many people thought, lacking in deep convictions because he was lacking in bias and attempted to see each side of an argument, nor was he perceptive because he had once been a psychologist. He was naturally those things and maintained his convictions privately, and did not think that any of it made him a woolly or an unresolved thinker. His apology to René had not been based on realising he had got it wrong about the man's sexuality – it had been based on having known René preferred men; having realised, on the back of their nasty conversation that had left him feeling like an idiot, just what René felt for Olivier; and having somehow seen Kitty as a solution to the whole incipient mess – not because he thought it would solve the 'gay problem', but because he had forgotten, after a horrendous amount of whisky, that being gay generally tended to take women out of the equation as a solution to any kind of relationship issue.

He often had brilliant ideas when he was drunk, he just came up lacking in the follow through department. Someone to take René's mind off of Olivier was an excellent idea, just the same, he just needed to correct his follow through to someone more Brad Pitt and less Alicia Silverstone.

And that was right at the heart of the matter, wasn't it? He knew far too many Alicias and not enough Brads… Of course since, as far as he knew, Brad wasn't gay, and was married too, that probably wouldn't help either.

It was bad luck on René, he thought, chewing at a pen while he looked over the forensic reports on the first victims. Not that he felt it himself, but he knew what was attractive in people, and while he would have thought René was attracted to almost the exact opposite of everything Olivier was, he could acknowledge where and when he got things wrong, and work with what he actually had.

The problem was, he might know a couple of Brads, but he was pretty fucking certain he didn't know any more Oliviers. So he was, effectively, completely stuck and unable to help.

He was the same way with the case. He couldn't get past the way he had been trained to think, to examine the victims first to find a link, to look at their lives to draw his profile, and all he was doing was depressing himself at the waste of life, to the point where he would have gladly put on a soppy film in which every pet ever owned died horribly and nobly in order to have an excuse for a good cry.

The art chosen had to mean something, didn't it? Klimt's 'The Friends' and Egon Schiele's "Lovers: Man and Woman I". They were well-known to art enthusiasts, surely, though not to the average man on the street, nor to himself, he had to admit. The subject matter of lovers was the only thing they had in common. That would be a fairly obvious link except then - there, he amended mentally, they weren't an afterthought, they were the thought – there were the victims. They seemed to have absolutely nothing in common, either with each other, or with the art in question. As far as they had been able to ascertain, none of them were even acquainted. He had to be missing something.

Like the answer.

He sighed again, and put the forensic reports at the side of each painting, hoping that just letting his eyes try to pick up on similarities rather than trying to use his brain would help.

When Lissa came in, banging the door unnecessarily hard and muttering about idiots, it was a definite relief.

"Bad night?" he asked blandly, scrubbing his hands over his face to bring back some alertness. He could do the attentive spouse thing… or attentive not-spouse thing…whatever.

There was no answer though for several minutes as Lissa shed shoes and socks, grabbed a beer and collapsed on the couch next to him.

"Bad night?" he tried again.

"Yes," Lissa said curtly, and then sighed. "No. Work was fine, life was normal, and then one of the social workers decided it was her duty to Talk To Me Seriously, because God knows she had nothing better to do." He could hear the capitals.

"Why was the social worker talking to you?" Isa asked in surprise, putting down his pen and turning to her. He had sometimes thought that someone should have a word with Olivier, considering the way a night of sex was so very obviously marked on him the next day, but why they would be quizzing Lissa was beyond him. He very rarely left passion-marks, and when he did they were definitely not somewhere a social worker should have been looking.

"She thinks I'm being 'put upon'." Lissa rolled her eyes. "The woman has no idea of what my job is, she just heard one of the doctors talking to me and decided that he was treating me unfairly because of my skin colour and not just because he's a jerk to begin with."

"Right, no, I'm still lost," Isa said. "Seriously. Did he say something, or -?"

"No, he just thought I couldn't do my job." Lissa rolled her eyes. "Meet new boss, same as old boss, same boss everyday-kind of boss, who thinks no-one, not even another consultant, can do things as well as him, including attach a saline drip."

"And the social worker thought he was being racist?" Isa couldn't help the glee that spiralled his voice upwards. It was mostly the thought of what firstly, Lissa would have said to anyone who had been even vaguely so by the merest implication, and secondly, what the poor social worker had unleashed upon herself. "Wow..." He cackled, and Lissa hit him on the arm, starting to smile unwillingly.

"Oh, shut up."

"Did she cry and hide under a bed and want her mummy?" Isa asked.

"No…because I was nice and only told her to fuck off in the sweetest of terms." She batted her eyes at him with false sweetness, and Isa snorted. "And then of course, the doctor came back in, asked me a question about a different patient, and told me I was doing a fine job. That totally fucked with her brain."

Isa snickered. Lissa often said that particular doctor was manic/depressive and belonged in one of the bed rather than out dispensing drugs to her poor patients.

"Just special," he said happily. "So why're you still pissed off, sweetie? Don't tell me she had a point..."

"Pfft. No. It was the way she tried to make up for it by telling I should be a doctor and she really thought I should revise my opinions of what I could get upward! I mean Christ, Isa! If I'd wanted to be a doctor I'd have damn well gone in and studied for it, I've not noticed a single bit of anti-women or anti-anything as long as you can do your job – okay, well, anti-people, I do that too, but – it didn't seem to have crossed her mind that she was the one saying my job was second best and I hadn't thought it for a second until she started pushing the point at me. Like I should be embarrassed that I'm not a doctor, or at least, you know, be thinking I deserve an upgrade, as though I'm a plane passenger and not a qualified professional!"

"You're absolutely right," Isa nodded, "the woman was an idiot." He pulled Lissa into his lap, holding her and rubbing soothing circles on her back.

How could the woman say such a thing, good intentions or no? Lissa was the best at what she did, and had the trust and confidence and reliance of people who were, according to this stupid woman's definition, far better qualified. She was good with people as well as charts and symptoms, and had a gentle hand and an irascible, confidence-inspiring patience that few could match. You believed Lissa when she told you things were improving, that you were doing well, and he had watched people respond to her as though she were a skilled therapist. And most of all, she was one of the most observant people he'd ever met. It was amazing how she could settle balky patients, know exactly what their problems were and how to settle them. There were times he wished he were even half as good…if he were, maybe this case would have been solved by now.

"Sometimes I think I prefer actual straight-out prejudice," Lissa said dismally. "I can fight that, I can get mad about that, but what do you say to someone who thinks they're being encouraging and can't see how damn insulting it all is? Like I can't choose for myself, must be blinded by all the things the people who don't matter to me have said in their time. And I shouldn't rise to it, I've been doing this for too long to let it affect me, but oh, my God, it gets on my nerves!" She sighed. "Right up there with why haven't I got kids and why aren't I married. This whole – everyone assumes that I must want something else, I can't possibly be pleased with myself or happy, and it makes me insane!" She huffed out an exasperated breath.

Isa mentally translated the whole thing to 'social workers are dicks no matter what their sex, the consultant surgeon needs tranquillizing, and my mother called.'

"I love you, you know?" It was the safest thing he could say just then. In the state she was in anything else would be considered just one more person telling her what she wanted. "You're beautiful and amazing and I love you."

It was still no surprise when his sweetest and dearest love bashed him in the head with a sofa pillow.

"Right," he agreed, rubbing the afflicted part. "Want another beer?"

Lissa spluttered into laughter, and Isa marked himself up for a point. Hospital and Life: 1,000,000. Isa: 1.

It was pretty sad that he was sure his one point counted as worth more than the rest.


It took almost three weeks before the full extent of what he had almost revealed finally got through to René. Three weeks of too-hot Paris at the end of July; three weeks of longing to simply be immersed in a cold bath from eight in one morning to three in the next, of spending circuit or firearms training longing to be somewhere, anywhere else; three weeks of little sleep and having to force himself to eat because the last thing he wanted was to be sent home under medical advice.

Three weeks of carefully thinking about everything except what he had almost talked to Olivier about, of avoiding all evenings that could be spent with the Sûreté group, of working so hard towards their next major case that even Claire stopped being snide and started to wonder if she was missing something.

And then the weather broke, however briefly, in a spectacular thunderstorm that caught René in a night-time walk around the streets of the Quartier Latin, as he looked rather hopelessly for any kind of meal that would firstly be prepared by someone else and secondly not have to involve thinking – and it was all for nothing, because he might as well have been back in England, caught in a colder storm after a day watching the Oxford Torpids from the banks of the Isis, half-drunk on badly-mixed Pimms and starting to peel with sunburn, and more than half in love with a historian who had so far barely noticed his existence academically, but had sure as hell turned his interest onto René's appearance.

He knew that he had probably given Olivier the impression that it was Anne, if anyone, who had caught his eye, but it was very far from the truth. René's English summer, his supposedly glorious beginning to the true world of research and an immersion in medievalism and John Wycliffe that he had thought would be his life's work, had been overwhelmed by the simple fact of Richard Bordeaux's existence, a kind of dazzle of his eye and mind that had never happened before or since. He never knew how, or why, or when this had become his world, but by the day of the thunderstorm, it had been too late for him to put up any defences against it, vying for Richard's attention in the way he had despised in others when he first arrived, and not knowing how it had come to this point.

He should not have even been in a position to notice Richard, being as the man lived in London and he himself was only taking a year of study to look at documents (and enormous advantage of his pass to the Bodleian), but every communal activity that his fellow students seemed to feel it necessary to drag him to, every party or society dinner or Union drinks where someone of interest could be met, Richard was there too, holding court and demanding attention for reasons René could not quite understand.

By the time he had worked out what it was about the man that drew his eye and commanded such absorption from those around him, it was too late, and René's days were consumed, not by translation and collation of thesis proofs, but by an attempt to evoke the same response from Richard in return.

He knew that he was one of the rarities in his field, not because of his chosen topic – which was rare only by virtue of his being French, and not for any particularly new or fascinating academic slant – but because he was good-looking enough to catch the eye on first glance, even if his natural tendency towards blending in with any available wallpaper rendered that first impression null and void almost as soon as he had achieved that initial response; because he was blond, and even then had the taut body of a runner; because he was, he knew from being told, he knew from all the approaches made to him, attractive even without being surrounded by a group of people who thought any kind of daily workout was a waste of valuable research time. He knew it, and had found himself playing on it for the first time in his life, overcoming his innate need to blend in and become invisible so that he might observe rather than participate.

By the afternoon of the Torpids race, he had been relishing the knowledge that at last he had started to take Richard's attention in the same way Richard had drawn his over the year, and had been on a dizzy high of potential success, thinking what could follow.

And then the thunderstorm had caught them all, sending most people hurrying to find what shelter they could, and hardly noticing the wet and the cursing and the crashing noise at all, because his own private storm had broken long since, and he had simply stood in the torrential rain and relished every second of it.

Eventually, he had realised that getting soaked through in combination with incipient sunburn and rapidly wearing-off intoxication was a terrible, terrible idea, and started to shiver rather hard while simultaneously coming to the conclusion that unless he wanted to get a reputation for being a complete space cadet rather than slightly mad, he was going to have to stay out in the storm as opposed to making the retreat he heartily wanted.

And then he had met Anne, a small, frizzy-haired figure in clunky, desperately unsuitable boots who somehow had an umbrella – who the hell thought of taking an umbrella to the river on a hot day? – and who had grabbed him before he could protest and led him away from the river to her probably illegally parked car.

"You're soaked," she had said in a statement of the obvious that somehow managed not to be irritating, and given him a little push towards the car door. "Get in."

She had handed him a jumper from the appalling muddle of things on the back seat, and watched while he put it on, as though he were a recalcitrant child who had refused to come in from playing in the rain – which supposed he was – and then given a firm little nod while he slowly relaxed back into the seat and started to actually relish not being continually resaturated.

René, in a Paris storm, half-running away from the people who were too different and too similar from those who had surrounded him on the banks of the Isis, remembered her, her round face and steady grey eyes, her practical words and her unending kindness, and the conversation that had let him know, once and for all, just exactly what he had been doing.

Richard's wife, as a theory, had been endurable. Richard's wife in the flesh, offering him warmth and a kind of acceptable comfort and a ready understanding, was an entirely different matter, and the least bearable of all of it had been that she had known precisely how he felt, and while he could have borne and dismissed pity, she had instead offered him a wry understanding that was far more difficult to ignore – because it was what he had craved from people for so very long, being as it was the coin he offered to others.

They had sat in the car and talked quietly – of anything but Richard and yet nothing but Richard, and she had listened as though she were his friend, as though this were something that did not touch her to the quick. Perhaps it had not. René had known little of her, but the short hour spent in that car had taught him something about love that he had been woefully lacking in any kind of knowledge towards – that true love, that durable fire of Raleigh's, had nothing to do with a foreign student who could not keep his eyes off someone else's husband, even if he had so far managed to keep his hands to himself.

He had left the car with a firm determination to try and control all he felt for Richard, to hold Anne in his mind as often as he gave in to the wanting he knew would probably never leave him. As often as he wanted to reclaim that moment of half-drugged delight before the storm, he could not. Anne had taken his wilful innocence from him, the careless freedom of his selfish wants, and replaced it with the bitter fruit of his own tree of knowledge – that he could not, whether it would be met with understanding or not, try for even a moment's thoughtless physical pleasure with someone who was loved so dearly and loved in return.

He had meant to take her up on the invitation to go to their house. But in his own struggle and his reimmersion in the texts he had pleaded to get a grant even to see, and his fight with his own soul that had taken him far longer to arrive at than any student of theology should ever have needed, the days had become weeks, and the weeks collected months in their wake, and his stay's extension had been granted without he ever considered making the quick phone call.

By the time he had re-emerged, newly determined and believing himself a free man, it had been to the news of the appalling car crash that had destroyed both the occupants of that little, cluttered vehicle in different ways – learned of Anne's death and Richard's slow and terrible fall into the wilderness of grief that had been so easy for people to term a breakdown – and all his own careful, brittle, tenuous world had fallen in broken stone and ashes about him.

He had given up his grant and his every thought of a doctorate, and returned to Paris to take up the position at the Interior that had been offered to him two years before, when he had been applying for jobs in the miserable conviction that he would never get his research grant.

He kept the jumper, not only to remember Anne, but to remind himself of what he could not be, what he refused to be, what he would never have.

It was why, in part, he had let Isa believe he had refused to support Olivier, why he felt the old stirrings of guilt about even the closeness of friendship with his partner's husband – because his belief in the real sanctity of marriage had been so hard-won, so cripplingly understood, and while Claire and Olivier were as far from the couple who had taught him that as could be imagined, it was still the old rules, still the unbreakable fact of a world in which he could not and would never belong.

Soaked and shivering once again, on a bridge over a river that was as many thousands of miles away from the Isis as though it had been on the other side of the world, René finally let himself mourn for everything he had given up, everything that had been lost with Anne's death, and everything that he had needed to set aside in order to survive.


René and Claire had posed as a couple before, but it had more usually been as either brother and sister, or a very uncommitted and rather promiscuous live-in and incredibly unmarried partnership. This time, however, they were dealing with what Claire had scathingly described as the world's first ever heteronormative drug lord, and were therefore supposedly married, in love, and God help them both, passionately fixated on one another.

They had been causing mass hysteria in the offices by practising the latter for public display. René was bad at it even without trying in order to uphold his status as the most fastidious man ever, and Claire was either over the top or cold as ice and visibly tolerating it. René was exhausted, Claire not much better, and the first meeting with their contact was decided upon as being far better handled by Claire – for the simple reason that her makeup covered a multitude of sins, including the deathly need for sleep that had consumed them both. René was startled to discover how very much happier he was in the position of observer in a situation that he should by rights have been itching to control from the inside, but was so grateful for the opportunity that he did not even question it.

So while Claire was arriving at the hotel, René, fidgety from too little sleep and too much caffeine, was across the street in a closed down storefront shop, watching and listening via cameras and wires.

"Mrs. DeFontaine."

"Mr. Günter. You look ready for business. You must give me the name of your tailor to pass on to Georges."

Not exactly scintillating conversation, but they were in a public lobby after all.

In the long run, René's leaving the meeting to Claire was the only thing that saved them from blown covers and possible disaster, because not a moment later, Olivier, face dark and clouded even at a distance, climbed out of a taxi that had drawn up outside the hotel's main entrance.


In a complete disregard for protocol or efficiency or any possible career-threatening disasters that might occur, René tore out his audio link, slammed his laptop shut, and ran out of the shop and into a cacophony of furious Paris traffic with the computer under his arm and hundreds of Euros' worth of equipment abandoned on his erstwhile table.

"I am going to fucking kill him..."

He entered the lobby just in time to see Olivier pound his fist against the closed door of the elevator then stalk off towards the stairwell.

Thank God, was René's only thought, because it would take far more luck than Olivier had to be able to discern exactly which floor was Claire's ultimate destination.

He thrust his laptop over the desk at the startled concierge, and kept running.

"Olivier!" he snapped from the bottom of the stairs, and was utterly disregarded, from the continuing sound of hurried footsteps. "Jesus Christ, are you trying to get yourself killed - Olivier!"

He put on a sprint, feeling his calves burn in protest, and hurled himself at Olivier's back on the second landing, sending them both crashing into the wall.

"What," he managed, and gasped for breath. "What? What the fuck?"

"Get off me, René. Now." Olivier's voice was taught and tense. "This is the end of it all. I just can't…can't…Not anymore. I tried so fucking hard and this is…it's too much."

He shoved at René and tried to scramble past him and up the stairs.

"Olivier –" René hooked his foot around Olivier's ankles and brought him back down, rolling on top of him with an arm across his throat. "I don't know why you've decided to lose your mind today," he ground out, "but the man up there is importing very large amounts of uncut heroin, I have had a horrible week learning to act as though I can't keep my married hands off your wife, and I do not need this utter crap right now, are you listening?" He was shaking, not with fear, but with the pent up need to actually do Olivier some serious damage.

"Don't lie for her," Olivier growled heaving his heavier frame up and almost managing to dislodge René . "She met that bastard at a party last month. I fucking saw him there."

He grabbed René's hand and twisted it, and this time succeeded in shoving him off. "I'm going to kill her. Shoot her right through her icy heart…."

"No you are not," René said through gritted teeth, and this time he punched the back of one of Olivier's knees, bringing him down with what was hopefully not permanent damage, much as he wanted to cause it. He lunged sideways and grabbed the fire extinguisher, and unclipped the safety catch. "Now you are going to listen or I am going to use this on you, and I seriously don't care if it's the powder variety or not. I don't lie. I have never lied. I have refused to answer, but I have never, ever bloody well lied to you. This is an op, Olivier, we've been setting it up for weeks, what the fuck do you think I've been doing all the times I've cancelled? That man up there thinks that Claire and I are running a rival syndicate, and that we want to join forces with him. She is currently pulling off the act of her life, and you are not, not, not going to fuck this up any more than you already have, what the hell is wrong with you?"

The anguish on Olivier's face was enough to make a harder man than René feel pity. It was all there, just that suddenly, out in the open with no need for words. But still they were spoken, "She's with someone, René. Maybe several someones…fuck if I know. I've tried so hard to do what she wanted but there are some things…She loved me once. I know she did but now…I think I just embarrass her. I'm not…enough… not anywhere but in bed."

"Jesus..." René put the fire extinguisher down, as slowly as though it were the gun he had been itching to use only seconds ago. "Oh, God. Olivier. Don't. It's not – if this is about the last week or so, it's not – we've been out on our feet and everyone else thinks it's so bloody funny. I don't know why she's not telling you anything, but –"

Oh Christ. Who was he to try and untangle the idiocies of love? For all he knew, Olivier was right, and Claire was having more than one affair and had been for some time. Where she had found the energy to maintain any of it he was not quite sure, but he knew that it was more than possible.

He swallowed. "Not here, though," he said carefully. "Not this. I don't know, I don't – but it's not this. I'm not lying. I swear I'm not lying. The only thing – you'll get yourself killed if you go up there, can you understand me?"

"How can I care? How do you think I can care?" The words were almost wrenched from Olivier's throat, tight and constricted sounding. "At least the pain would be gone. All the doubt. All the worry over what I did or what I didn't. No more trying to please her and knowing that fucking her is the only thing I do half way right…."

"There are one hell of a lot more ways out of that than death!" René almost shouted, and now he was afraid, afraid for someone else, and had no idea of what to say or do. He had never been the one with the training to talk someone down from the high ledge, only the one deputised to give them that final mental push to do just that, and he was utterly adrift. "Christ, Olivier, there has to be more that matters in your life than pleasing my bitch of a partner - you're worth more than that sort of stupidity!"

"I thought so once…" Olivier croaked. He dropped his head down, and drew up his knees, a forlorn ball against the harsh concrete of the stairwell wall. "God, she was so beautiful and sweet when we met, René…you wouldn't have known her. None of this hardness…soft and gentle…and she made me feel like I was all she wanted."

"I imagine that you were," René said honestly. He could not imagine the Claire Olivier had described, no matter how he tried, but he had no problem with understanding how the Interior had demanded too much of her, stripped away her capacity for anything that was not essential to survival.

Love was one of those things, he knew, and yet – hadn't someone written something about that once?

Love cannot fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone…

"Olivier –" he said helplessly, lifting his hand and dropping it again, not knowing what to say or do. He reached into the deepest, most closed off part of himself, the part he had vowed never to risk again, and came up with the coldest comfort man had ever devised.

Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.

"Olivier, if she – if she makes you feel – she's not worth killing, let alone dying for. Not if it's true."

"She's been my world for so long…how can a man…any man…live without his world?" Olivier's voice cracked on that last phrase and he was silent for several long moments before he spoke again. "But she's on a case. This time, at least, I have to trust that…because I trust that you've told me the truth."

"I've told you the truth," René agreed quietly, the worst affirmation of his life. "I always will, actually." Olivier turned his head to look at him, and he managed a wry little smile. "Not exactly stellar behaviour for an agent, is it?"

"No." Olivier agreed. "But exactly what is needed in a friend." He straightened his legs out and rubbed his sleeve over his face in a rough scrubbing motion, as if trying to erase everything he was feeling and thinking even from his skin. "Christ, I'm such a mess. I…I hope I haven't fucked things up for you, René, with all this bullshit."

"Er," René said, stalling, because the other option was to lie, and he had just promised he wasn't going to do that. "Well. Look on the bright side. You can't actually decimate one person, right?"

Olivier stared at him. His assessment of himself, René noted a bit tiredly, was entirely accurate. He was a complete mess. "No?" he ventured.

"Well then, everything should be fine," René said, and finally, finally straightened his legs out from under him, ending up sitting next to Olivier with his back against the wall, both of them looking determinedly out over the railinged drop of the stairwell.

"Good," Olivier said, which seemed to use up the last of his energy, because after that his lean back against the wall turned into a sort of sideways slump against René's shoulder.

"I thought so," René agreed absently, and very carefully moved one arm to accommodate the slump, so that neither of them ended up on the rather dirty floor again.

They didn't move for a very long time.


Olivier was avoiding mirrors this week. Lack of sleep and worry and embarrassment had all combined to make him look like the closest to death on toast that he could imagine. And, if he had a way to do so, he would also have been avoiding Isa. Isa, with his far too knowing expression of mixed pity and worry. Isa, who asked far more questions than Olivier felt prepared to answer. Isa, who did all of it with such good will and charity that Olivier just wanted to box his ears or lock him in a closet or possibly shove him out a window - none of which were particularly viable options, especially when he really needed him on their current case.

It sucked. Badly.

It didn't help that he had got home, determined to finally have it out with Claire and not hurt her in the process, because Christ almighty, he had lost enough dignity already without adding an arrest for spousal abuse to the dismal list, only to find a note, careful and considerate and very far from loving, telling him that she had left on her 'planned holiday' and would phone him as soon as she got back.

René, damn his interfering hide, had got there first in some way, and now Olivier not only had no idea what he might have told Claire, but in fact where either of them were as they pretended to married bliss and bargained down millions that were not theirs to spend in order to pull off an arrest that would probably make them heroes.

Or kill them.

But Olivier, in spite of his threats and – then, if no longer – truly genuine and complete determination to kill his wife, still ached with worry that it might happen, that this mission might be the one that went bad and leave him with nothing but one of those polite little visits from some bland official or perhaps even from René, hat in hand.

He wondered who would be notified if something happened to René. And somehow that thought worried him almost as much - that a man he was learning to call friend was as alone as that.

It was all too damn complicated, and, along with the endless photos of the three tableaus they were sure belonged to their personal horror of a frustrated artist, was robbing him of sleep with live-action replays, word for word, of every conversation he wished he could change, interspersed with imagery that belonged to the Brothers Grimm before ever Perrault got hold of them.

And he still wanted to know how the hell René had managed to push the op forward so that Claire was out of the way before he could even think about calming down, and just what that meant in terms of where René's support lay. He knew that Isa was – or had been, he still wasn't really sure on that score – extremely dubious about the agent in relation to friendship and loyalty, and was fairly convinced that this was at least eighty percent of what had brought René to their offices that morning, looking worse than Olivier felt now and threatening Isa with very real violence. He had no idea whether Isa knew more than he was letting on about René's partnership with Claire, or if he was the only person outside of the Interior who knew what they were having to pose as.

He knew why a man would kill, but not why he would mimic fin-de-siècle paintings with his new corpses. He knew a lot about lust and obsession and depraved, sickened desire that hurt the one under its spell as much as it wounded all those they inflicted those things upon – but he knew nothing about why someone would want to display that torment to the world.

He was sick of the list of things he did not know.

Almost as sick as he was of the things he merely suspected.

"Here…coffee, with a double espresso shot – and a ham and cheese bagel, which you will eat with no arguments, please. Because looking at you is making me both tired and hungry."

"Yes, Isa." Olivier didn't have the energy to argue with him at the moment.

"Yeah, don't agree with me like that, it's creepy," Isa said, sounding less than his usual amused self. "And we've got an overdose of creepy here, so do me a favour and do your normal horrible you...thing, would you?"

Olivier felt his mouth curl up in an entirely involuntary smile, because damn, sometimes it was just too easy.

"Yes, Isa."

Isa sneered at him, and went back to pushing yellow pins into the map.

"I'm probably going to regret asking," Olivier said slowly, "but what are you – oh." He had thought for a moment that Isa had been given some kind of breakthrough idea by the gods of Vile Casework, but instead he was making a very elaborate rendition of a frown emoticon over the centre of Paris. "Figures."

"Not like they're being used for anything else."

Olivier just shook his head and turned back to his computer, which promptly flashed and went to a blue screen, "God damn it! Where's that computer guy? Basket or whatever the fuck his name is?"

"Transferred out," Isa shrugged. "Said he couldn't handle the violence."

"Yeah, well, this case is tough on all of us."

"Actually," Isa grimaced, "I think he was referring to René."

"Really?" Olivier blinked, and grinned a bit. "Huh."

"I know." Isa was definitely smirking. "Score one for the super-spook, right?"

"Yes..." Olivier said slowly, "except for the bit where now there's no-one to fix the computers."

"Minor drawback," Isa said, waving his hand. "Anyway, you can use mine."

"No, yours scares me," Olivier said honestly. "It has...things in it. That jump out. And possibly bite, which I don't want to discover first-hand."

"I brought cof-- Oh, you already have some." Kitty's cheery voice overrode further discussion. "Ah well, have two. You look like you could use it."

"Now don't you start on me." Olivier growled. "Bad enough that this fucking thing won't work and we seem to have lost our tech."

"What's wrong with it?"

"How should I know?"

"Okaaay," Kitty said, looking at him warily, "what isn't it doing that you want it to do?"

"Anything," Olivier said honestly. "Unless I really want a blue screen. Which I don't."

"It's a very unsoothing blue," Isa agreed.

Kitty blinked. "As opposed to?"

"Unsoothing blue?" Olivier shook his head and picked up one of the cups of coffee and took a long drink. "Help me?"

Kitty looked at the screen, then reached down and turned the computer off, and then back on again. It came back up with the Sûreté emblem and the homepage just like it normally would.

"Kitty… have I told you lately that I adore you?"

"No, because you're a terrible person and I bet you don't call your mother, either," Kitty said absently. "Look, I found something in the archives that might be connected, but I don't actually want to try and give it to Gervaise."

Gervaise? Isa mouthed over her head, five seconds away from laughter. Olivier shrugged.

"Your immediate superior? Standing over there by the door looking like a week of wet Sundays?" Kitty said in exasperation.

"Oh, Dufay," said Isa and Olivier together, and Isa snorted, turning away hastily to conceal his laughter.

"Right." Kitty rolled her eyes. "Anyway, can you come and take a look at the file? Only I don't want to sign it out in case I get attention I don't want. God knows I can't be seen doing anything constructive around here..."

She sounded as fed up as Olivier felt.

"May as well." He shrugged. "It's not like either of us has an epiphany scheduled in the next ten minutes."

"You can schedule those?"

"I wish."

"Yeah, he's mean, he won't schedule me one even when I beg him," Isa said, recovering from his laughing fit. "I tell him it's only fair to share these not-having-an-epiphany moments around, because at least they'd be different to me not knowing I wasn't having an epiphany, but does he care?" Obviously taking Kitty's stunned silence as sympathetic agreement rather than having just undergone the verbal equivalent of someone scooping her brains out with a spork, he continued, "No, no he doesn't, exactly, you're completely right about what a mean man he is." He slung an arm around her shoulders and beamed at Olivier.

"Jesus Christ, Isa," was all he could manage to that.


He'd managed to get a smile and a curse out of Olivier. It wasn't much but far, far better than the dull haze the man had been walking around in for the last week. Isa had left him alone for the first part of it, but then as the bags under Olivier's eyes had turned into actual suitcases, he had to step in, if not for the sake of his own friendship, then because René had damn well almost threatened him with bodily harm if he didn't.

Not that threats were needed, but fuck. It seemed that René had taken his plea to not leave Olivier to sink or swim on his own very much to heart. It was really more than Isa had expected, that early morning call to say that he and Claire were leaving earlier than expected and that he would appreciate, nay expect him to keep the Olivier situation under control.

Or at least he thought that was what the man had said. The conversation had been so tied up in spooky double-talk that it almost needed an interpreter.

René's tone of voice, on the other hand, had not. The man might have an amazing set of twitching little neuroses that the psychiatrist in Isa wanted to fix on a daily basis, and he might well be a cold-hearted son-of-a-bitch on most occasions, but he could also lose his temper with amazingly spectacular results, and soften at the most unexpected things imaginable. And the note in his voice had been neither of those, and yet both at the same time. René had been angry, yes, the rage had been almost tangible over the connection, but it had not been anything that Isa was familiar with from him.

Something had happened that had shaken René straight out of his invulnerable little sterile cocoon and into the real world, and whatever it was, he was making damn certain that no-one else but the one responsible for that paid for it. Oddest of all, considering his incredibly oblique topic of discussion, the object of his incandescent fury had not been Olivier.

Isa was uncomfortably aware that someone he had bullied out of his safe zone was currently walking around Europe like a living time bomb with a partner he no longer trusted at all.

"Here, this is the file," Kitty's voice interrupted his thoughts. "It may be a wild goose chase but…there are an awful lot of coincidences for it to be."

She opened the folder and held it up. "It was never solved but the murders just stopped. It was assumed that the killer had either gotten scared and given up his little spree, or committed suicide, the latter being more likely."

"Or made a lot of really detailed notes, committed suicide, and left them to the Voted Most Likely Psycho from his old school in his will," Olivier said unhelpfully. Kitty hit him over the head with the folder.

"Yes! This is the solution!" Isa rescued the file from Kitty and Olivier from the file. "Now all we have to do is find who was voted Most Likely Psycho – genius, Olivier!"

"Give me back that file," said Kitty.

"Noooo. It's mine. My file. Mine." Isa sometimes wondered why no-one put him on a coffee ban. He thought it was probably more that they'd just decided the battle to enforce it would be too much effort.


"Why?" he whined. "It's a nice file. I wants it."

"Because I want to use it to kill you," Kitty said reasonably, and okay, perhaps she wasn't as resigned to his behaviour as he'd assumed, because she at least half-way meant that.

He surrendered the file.

"Now if you can be serious for more than two seconds in a row and look at this," Kitty scowled, "it might just help you."

She lay the open file down on the desk and both Olivier and Isa leaned forward to begin reading.

"Good job, Catling," Olivier suddenly looked up at her. "This is very similar to our current case. What do you think Isa, the same perp or a copy cat?"

"Your mother," Isa said, just to prove that he could behave like a six year old if he liked, thank you so much, and also to give him time to think while his mouth, or possibly vocal cords, he wasn't really sure what it counted as, distracted people.

"Your mother," said Olivier and Kitty, apparently on the same level of age and autopilot, and then gave a simultaneous cringe that was pretty funny, even combined with lurid case details.

"They're very similar," Isa finally ventured. "We'll have to dig a bit deeper to see what kind of markers we can find. The question is, really, if the fact that they are the same killer will lead us any closer to identifying him."

"And we're back to it having to be really bloody obvious," Olivier said grumpily, apparently determined to be no help whatsoever. It wasn't that Isa didn't sympathise with him, because whatever was going on in his head on continual replay was apparently incredibly unpleasant and adding to the whole death-without-optional-warming look, but sometimes, just sometimes, it would have been nice to think he could rely on a reaction that wasn't caused by his being as outrageous as possible.

"Well, we're not going to get obvious," he said, more tiredly than he had really been aware he felt, let alone was about to show, "so could you try and stretch a bit and think of what we now know if it is the same guy?"

He wondered why they always assumed murders were committed by men. He supposed it was mostly because while there was an entire list of serial killers of the male sex, even those who had never actually been caught or identified for certain, there weren't even any he could immediately think of who were women.

"Aside from the fact that he's now…er…ten years older? I'd have to say he's probably fairly physically fit, and yes, probably male since most women won't have the upper body strength to lug around dead bodies, let alone position them in tableaus. Taking that all into consideration, I'd say we're looking for someone fairly educated, in his middle to late thirties, somewhere between five feet five and six feet five."

"Yeah, we got that much from forensics, which was of equal not-help in narrowing it down," Olivier pointed out. Isa made a face at him.

"Ok, yeah, but if we accept he's ten years older, then actually it does narrow it down, because we're looking for someone who's kept themselves fit and either not been in the country or managed to hide their crime – really fucking unlikely, since this is one freaky show-off – or managed to keep themselves under control for ten years, which. I can't see."

"So we – what, look for similar MOs in other countries?"

"He could have been in jail," Kitty pointed out.

"Or the nearest psych ward," Olivier said, still grumpy, and Isa looked up from the file to grin at him.

"Well, well. Was that a not-an-epiphany?"

"As close as doesn't matter."

"Are you taking that file, Isa?" Kitty asked. "Because you'll have to sign it out."

"No," he replied. "I'm not taking that file." His lip twitched as he continued, "Olivier is taking that file."

The scowl he received was repayment enough. If he couldn't distract the man with humour, he'd settle for irritation. Anything was better than the blank despair he kept seeing creeping over Olivier's face.

"Should I sign it out, then?" Olivier asked with false patience, and Isa pretended thought.


"Yes," Kitty snapped, obviously wanting nothing more than to have them out of her offices. "Yes, sign it, stamp it, do whatever you have to do, but get out and take it with you before someone comes to find where you are and notices me, okay?"

Olivier patiently filled out the form and then presented it to Kitty in exchange for the file.

"Kitty, my love, you simply must stop hiding your light under a bushel." Isa quipped.

He was almost able to dodge the staple remover that came flying towards his head.


There were many things René survived in life by using a careful and judicious admixture of wry amusement at fate and a healthy amount of observant cynicism. Skilled at keeping every emotion he did not want recognised completely to himself, it was one of his main ways of keeping grounded in some kind of dubious sanity, that small still part of himself that remained entirely separate from whatever situation he was in.

But now, stranded in the somewhat bleak landscape of Rennes with everyone believing he and Claire were in another country altogether, and having to pretend that his every cell yearned towards a woman he had finally admitted to himself he loathed quite unreservedly, he had lost all his inner calm and temper, and was utterly adrift.

There was no escape. He had to spend the nights as well as the days in his role, not even a brief moment of dropping the mask allowed, because now he was pretending to the very person on whom his life might well depend, as well as the outside world, that he was a different being altogether from the one that was inhabiting the Interior-created shell.

So it was flattery in private as well as in public, at least so much as he usually flattered Claire, appealing to her vanity to keep things rolling and on an even keel, while inside he wanted to shout at her and ask her what the hell she was thinking to play at espionage in her personal life to such an extent. He also wanted to ask her how it was even possible to hide so much from someone you were so intimate with, when the only way he had managed it was to simply not be intimate at all.

It seemed that anger, no matter how sickening its burn, was the one thing he had needed to finally allow him to set his reserves aside. He would trail a finger down Claire's neck, and know she was concealing a shiver of distaste, kiss her palm in front of their host at dinner and watch the faint flicker in her eyes before she made herself respond. He was playing the role of Olivier for the world to see, and making them both a mockery that stung her every nerve, while inside him the voice that was usually so distant and amused murmured –

This, this, this is what you have made of him. This is your purgatory, and I am your private demon made flesh.

All of it ached, the words and the touches and the feeling, somehow, of betrayal. But who he was betraying or on what level he refused to examine. So instead he just used it, drew on all his observations and kept on going, because that was what he did.

The very factors that led most of their contemporaries to see their partnership as unhealthily symbiotic were the ones he most played on, their similarities in colouring and demeanour, their closeness that was in fact born of needing to know each other's every move before it was made – all of it, he used ruthlessly and without shame, a kind of raw exposition of everything he had come to despise, allowing other people to shudder away from it a little even as they recognised its exclusivity and innate power.

"You do have hidden depths," Claire murmured in his ear one night as they danced in a club to which they had been invited by the man René was beginning to hate as much as he did himself. "Anyone would think you meant it..."

René smiled down at her, closed and knowing, and bent his head so that his mouth was hidden by her hair, whispering into her ear –

"Ah, but I do..."

- and felt her shiver from his proximity and from understanding, relishing with the new sick joy he had found in this part the fact that she could not respond as she wished or question what wellspring this had come from.

He turned her in the dance, dipped her back to cover the flash of his eyes towards Günter. He was lounging at the bar, chatting with a girl who looked far too young to be drinking the rum and Coke the bartender had just set before her. Too young, and just a bit too fresh faced for the make-up and cocktail dress she was wearing - like she had snuck out in her big sister's clothes. But, to judge by his expression, Günter was fascinated by whatever she was telling him, to the point that he almost snarled when one of his men came up and whispered into his ear.

Claire, who could simultaneously enforce and make René want to take back every rotten thought or feeling he ever had about or towards her, turned herself into him so that her back was pressed up against him, and laughed up over her shoulder so that he could bend his head enough to seem engrossed in her reactions and focus his real attention on what he could make out of the man's mouth.

He didn't need to. Seconds later, Günter was flashing a look across at them that was full of a suspicion René could have seen a mile off, and it took all his self-control not to wince.

Claire spun back around in his arms, and lifted her face for a kiss, murmuring "Hell," against his lips as she wound her arms around his neck.

René could only agree, running his hand up the nape of her neck and cradling the back of her head as he let his eyes close.

"Girl talk?" he mouthed in return, and felt Claire's fingers trail downwards over his thin shirt, and press at the base of his spine in agreement.

They disentangled, and moved towards the bar.

René wasn't panicked…yet. There could have been many reasons for the looks and the conversation. It could have been anything from Günter getting a confirmation on something from one of their carefully set up fronts, or word that the people that Günter worked for were ready for a face-to-face.

Of course, it could also mean that their cover was blown and he and Claire would soon find themselves on the wrong end of one of the very large pistols that all of Günter's men seemed to carry.

René smiled at Günter as they approached, acting as if there were nothing more important on his mind than having a drink and then returning to the dance floor with Claire.

"Oh! Oh God, I'm so sorry, I'm really –"

"No harm done," Claire said smoothly, her expression, from what René could see of it, betraying absolute horror. Her white silk scrap of a dress was thoroughly drenched in rum and coke, outlining the formerly hinted-at fact that she was wearing nothing underneath it at all. Günter, distracted, was staring at her in outright lust, and René flicked his eyes up to meet his in clear warning, so that the cold grey eyes shifted away involuntarily.

"I've got – there's a shirt in my bag, do you want –"

"No, no –" Claire was laughing it off now. "Come with me, and I'll show you the best rescue job imaginable...can I have a glass of soda water, please?" she asked the barman, who handed it over with a slightly dazed expression. She took it with a smile of thanks, and led the girl off to the bathrooms, the whole thing so smoothly done that even René was unsure as to whether she had intended quite that to happen.

Except that it was Claire, and nothing ever took place around her that she had not meticulously planned.

"You two have some nice moves, Lafontaine," Günter commented, but his eyes were most definitely on Claire's moves as she ducked through the bathroom door, the younger girl in tow.

"Mmmm," René answered non-committally. "Clarice is the dancer, I just move along with her and try to keep off her feet."

Small talk. René wondered how long it would be before they got to the point. Was Günter simply marking time or was there something telling in his choice of words?

"The...shipment's arrival has been moved up," Günter said then, toying with the ornate swizzle stick in his glass almost idly. His hands gave René the horrors – overly clean and square and neatly manicured – and the fine layer of blond hairs on their backs catching the light whenever he moved them.

René merely raised his eyebrows in response, unsurprised and faintly curious.

"Tomorrow night," Günter said curtly.

René did show surprise then, letting his head tilt just that little bit to the side and betray his very real interest. "Because?" he asked, delicate as a cat in spilled water.

"These things happen," Günter said with a broad smile, and waved a hand in negation. "I think perhaps our suppliers are...a little over-eager."

"Apparently so," René agreed blandly. "Well. I can't say I'm sorry. Delightful though your hospitality is, my friend..."

"Ah yes, you want your home life back," Günter agreed, and his smile had all the casual malice of a shark. René's neck prickled, but he smiled in agreement.

"Of course," he said smoothly. "As do you."

Günter inclined his head, acknowledging the point.

Claire reappeared at that moment, the little girl standing next to her and looking miserable. "I'm afraid it's a lost cause, darling. We'll have to go back to the hotel so I can change. "

Indeed, the dress was even wetter now, dampened in way that looked almost artistic with long streaks of Coke dancing down the skirt.

"I'm so sorry," the girl said again, sounding utterly hopeless.

"Don't be, Lilly," Claire patted her on the shoulder. "It's an old thing anyway and it gives me an excuse to go out shopping."

"And we know how you love to shop," René chuckled, then reached for his jacket and wrapped it around Claire's shoulders. "I think we'll say goodnight then, Mr. Günter."

"How disappointing," Günter said with a faint smirk, and René didn't even bother to conceal his eye roll. "Well, if you must..."

"Oh, I think we must," René said a bit dryly, suppressing a cringe as Claire pressed her wet front to his side. "I take it you'll call?"

"Of course," Günter said with dismissive politeness, turning back to the bar and flicking his hand at the bartender for another drink for the miserable Lilly. René wondered whether this one would be free from the drugs he strongly suspected Günter of using for his own ends, and Claire's hand in his pocket, giving his thigh a painful little nip, reminded him that it was none of his business.

They walked the short distance back to their hotel, pausing in a dark doorway to press against each other. Any passers-by would think they were locking in a loving embrace, but it covered a quick exchange of information before entering their bugged hotel room, the only chance they would have to be seen and not clearly, damningly heard.

"Did you get anything?" René murmured against Claire's neck, and she nodded slightly, turning her head towards him as though craving more of his touch, mouthing against his ear –

"Cameras, she thinks it's funny, says he doesn't believe – he's got us pegged as siblings -"

She didn't have to finish. René resisted the urge to curse, and drew a long slow breath as he tried to work out how this could have gone so very wrong. He knew they had pulled it off, knew that they had been good enough to make even the most jaded observer believe in their attraction and relationship. So either Günter had turned voyeur, or the information he had been given had also made him suspect that they were other than they seemed – or he had an idea of what he would like to see between brother and sister that made even René quail.

Whatever it was, they would have to provide it. It tallied too neatly with the change in plans.

"He's moved the meeting up to tomorrow," he breathed into her hair, and Claire shuddered at the cool feel of the air on her still-damp skin, the words setting her on the qui vive far more than anything he could do.

"You think –"

"Possible." René pressed his hand against her back, flat and hard, the fingers spread and extended in an unmoving intaglio of muscle and bone, warning her. He felt her face twitch in anger.

"So then." She drew back, and took his face in her hands, running a thumb along his lower lip before she leant in and took it between her teeth, not quite closing down as the words slipped from her in a long, slow exhalation. "Showtime."


The last time René had felt any kind of desire, he had been in the backroom of a club with no need to know the name or the preferences of the man on his knees in front of him, other than that he was apparently willing and eager to go down on a perfect stranger without payment. He wasn't sure whether that was in fact less sordid than the scene he was now playing out, moving past windows as he pulled the damp silk from Claire's naked body, letting her undress him as though he were some electronic mannequin, moving to her touch as though directed by wired connections.

He had no need to use his imagination to make his body respond – he had learned as well as Claire how to let his nerve-paths dictate what his mind would never encompass. There would be no resorting to some fantastical world of delight, no moment where his eyes closed and his body betrayed him involuntarily with other memories or wishes.

His eyes were open, those of his body and his mind, and the cruelty he wreaked upon himself he turned upon Claire in turn, his hands and fingers hard in their touch and his lips bruising where they met that white skin, imprinting kisses as red as paint into the curve of her belly and the little concave arch of her hips.

They always lived with the thought that it could come to this, fake passion played out on the body of the other, but somehow the thought and the reality were much farther apart than he, at least, had imagined. But this…performance…far more than anything, would convince Günter that they were what they said they were.

Claire slid lower, her teeth on his chest scraping on barely the right side of painful and sometimes slipping completely over, causing him to hiss. He turned the sound into one of longing, "Yessssss."

He caught her wrists in one hand, moving her long nails away from his back, pinning her arms above her head so that she was stretched out and away from him, her body arched against the wall into the light of the bedside lamp, a chiaroscuro of all that he had never wanted in life and now truly must have or die for it. Her head tilted back, her neck extending to the fullest length of skin and tendon, exposing the hollow of her throat and the soft skin under her chin, as warm and vulnerable there as any living creature. He brought his other hand up, caressing that small tenderness with the side of his palm, pure power play in demonstration of all they had made themselves out to be behind the closed doors that kept nothing out.

"Do it…" she whispered urgently. "Now… please…"

The words were almost believable, just the right tone, just the right inflection. Fortunately no one else would be able to see the mockery in her eyes. She was daring him, making the whole thing into some kind of challenge. Fuck me if you can.

He lowered his barriers completely for the first time in all the years they had worked together, letting her see that it was sheer loathing that made this easy for him, that it was no lust for anything but the burning desire to cause her pain that sparked his body into response.

This, he thought coldly and clearly, sparing himself nothing even as he divorced himself from their too-close flesh, pushing into her with nothing in his mind but contempt for them both, even as he brought his hands down to lift her up so that their slightest movements could be better seen by still cameras or video, this is the closest I will ever come to rape. Because this is violence, this is the desire to do harm, this has nothing to do with her or me, only what we have been breeding in some strange festering hothouse between us all these endless days. This is a violation of us both.

And then, as she gasped in real surprise above him, he thought with icy precision –

This is a violation of the only friendship I have ever wanted.

- and marvelled at how his flesh did not shrink back at the knowledge.

In the end, he brought her to completion, however unintended, thrashing and crying out, while he himself gave a few more hard and final thrusts, collapsing over her with no thought to sparing her his weight. He tugged the duvet over them before he moved from between her legs feeling filthy and sweaty, and aching from his undiminished erection.

Even he was not that good an actor.

He turned his face into her hair, feeling her breathing slow and steady itself against him, concealing the utter despair he knew not even closed eyes would hide from her and the unseen watchers.

The descent into hell. It is so very, very easy, he thought bleakly, and willed himself away from the closed horrors that seethed behind the locked door of his baulking mind, and into a facsimile of sleep.


René had no idea whether the cameras were still on them or not when the phone rang at dawn the next morning, and he rather blurrily groped for it without thinking of whether it looked as though he were feeling comfortable in the same bed as Claire or not. After a few hours of snatched and broken half-sleep, he was almost beyond caring how it looked, assuming that his exhausted indifference would pass for long custom.

"Lafontaine," he said into the phone, more crisply than he felt.

"I've got the meeting set." Günter's voice, just as off-hand as always, but with a bit more…something.

"What time?" he asked, shrugging into his robe. He felt cold, but he wasn't sure if it was the room, or memories of the previous night making him shiver.

"Ten a.m. I'll have one of my men pick you up at nine fifteen," Günter told him.

This certainly wasn't the best option for them. With control of the vehicle, they would have had a certain amount of control over the meeting, but Günter wasn't giving them any options. "We'll be ready."

He didn't bother with formalities, just snapped the phone shut to find Claire already out of bed and closing the bathroom door firmly behind her. René wished rather irritably that hotels provided couples with more than one shower at the exorbitant price they charged, and then thought that if the cameras were hoping for a display of marital unity with regards to bathing, they were in for a terrible disappointment.

He had to admit that the thought of being relatively free from the aftershave Lafontaine preferred for even a half-hour extra was remarkably pleasant. Claire could get away with using fragrances that she preferred in her ordinary life – what suited her skin acidity and social status tended to hold true for her no matter what role she was playing – but he had no such choice, needing to opt for the recognisable and expensive rather than his usual personal mixture from a parfumerie in Florence.

René glanced at the clock. At least Günter had given them plenty of time to wake up and get ready. He wandered over to the closet to choose which of several overly expensive, overly tailored suits he'd put on after his shower. Grey, he decided, to match his mood, and the sharp edges would hopefully conceal what he felt to be sorely lacking in his demeanour.

And what about breakfast? His stomach churned at the thought, so maybe that wasn't a wonderful idea, but he did call room service and order coffee and croissants. He felt muzzy-headed and craved the caffeine. If Claire wanted something else she could order it herself.

He felt as though he had been on an all night binge, though the restless, paranoid nausea he felt was an accumulation of draining adrenaline and the gritty, swirling residue of emotions that were better left as an untapped reservoir in his system, and nothing to do with any kind of more identifiable excess.

When his breakfast arrived, he added milk and sugar to his coffee in an attempt to get some kind of burnable energy into his system, not caring that Lafontaine, like him, usually took his coffee black. If this morning's future was not cause for a break in the routine, nothing was, and he thought it would probably more a matter for comment if he did everything as usual than if he let in a few variations.

Still they were ready when Günter's man arrived, himself in the damnable grey and Claire, fresh as springtime in pale lavender. René wondered if she felt anything under her cool exterior. If she considered the previous evening's travesty of passion to be anything more than just a part of the job, or if she even thought of it at all.

Probably not. René had come to realize that his partner actually was what he, himself, pretended to. Focused only on the job, ice cold and genuinely emotionless. He would have felt infinitely more secure had he thought her detachment sprang from her training and not from a very real heartlessness.

He was half-expecting Günter's man to insist that he go unarmed, but apparently Günter had foreseen the inevitable shutting down of their involvement in the deal if that had even been requested, and the expected words remained unsaid.

René would have felt more at ease if the allotted, tedious roles had been played out, but instead they were taken to the car's undeniable comfort in polite silence.

Claire settled herself back in the seat, no perturbation in her demeanour even to René's knowledgeable eye, and for the first time he found himself considering that her calm could sometimes be more of a drawback than an asset. His every nerve was screaming at him that something was about to go incredibly wrong, and yet Claire was entirely unaffected by the little shifts what they had expected, the tiny little air-breaths of change that were acting on him faster than any coffee could have managed.

The car pulled up, eventually, outside a private hangar - no rundown warehouses or sullen dockside meetings for Günter. Everything was neat, almost pristine, with only the faint trace of aviation fuel on the air to mar it.

"Right on time, I see." Günter came out to join them.

"I'm a businessman, Mr. Günter, and I conduct business, all my business, in a business-like manner," René gave him a tight smile. "Not that your man would have allowed us to be late…"

"And Rennes is scarcely known for its traffic jams at this hour," Günter agreed pleasantly. For all the world, René thought bitterly, as though he had never ordered last night, never have spent the hours while he lay awake and sick in a strange bed and Claire's muffling hair hiding his despair, satisfying whatever desires had driven him.

"They wouldn't have been much of an impediment, I suspect, even if this city were world-renowned for just that," he said in the same tones, and Günter let out a crack of laughter. Claire sighed impatiently, opening her bag to bring out a compact, and examining her flawless eye makeup carefully. Her gesture served a double purpose, activating the tiny microphone within, and ostensibly showing that her bag was free from anything but the most feminine of paraphernalia.

"I'm sure I have something in my eye," she mourned, and René, with a faint eye-roll at Günter, who gave him a mildly sympathetic look, stepped closer to her to peer closely at her face, allowing her to brush against his jacket buttons and trigger the small recording device on the lowest of them.

"Not a thing," he said, brushing the very tips of her eyelashes with a finger's whisper, smiling back at her murmured endearment.

The 'darling' grated against his nerves this morning, and he had to force his attention back to the job at hand. And Günter. He mustn't forget him even for a moment. The man could be like a snake, coiled and read to strike if startled.

"Are your contacts here, Mr. Günter? As much as Clarice and I have enjoyed your company these last few days, I'm anxious to get this all settled and move on to an even more enjoyable, and profitable, interaction."

"They're here." Günter smiled suddenly, and René fought to keep from twitching. There was far too much pleasure in his expression. "They don't know we're here, of course, but that's part of the fun, isn't it? I'm quite sure they were preparing to take their own cut and make what deals they could before I got hold of them. Good help." He sighed, mock-regretfully, and René let out a little breath of comprehension as Günter and Claire chorused together,

"So very hard to come by..."

Günter chuckled again, and made a motion with his left hand. Two of his men moved forward, sliding open the hangar doors while the other two readied their rifles, aiming them at the now revealed 'contacts'.

There was a flutter of activity inside, guns drawn, cover sought, and a voice, Günter's voice, ringing out, "I'm so sorry if we surprised you. You were expecting us, I believe?"

"Oh yeah, definitely," carolled a cheerful voice – far, far too cheerful for René's liking. "De Winter's compliments, and if you'd like to throw down your weapons..."

Günter burst out laughing, and Claire froze where she stood, as René slowly started raise his hands, thinking with a kind of insane amusement –

The day Interpol gift us with a fucking memo will be their last...

"God damn it!" Claire cursed by his side, but rather than raising her hands she moved to shove her compact back into her purse.

"Claire! No!" René saw the shift, as one of the Interpol agents spun and drew down on her. Too highly attuned to respond to him rather than any external movement, she started to turn towards him, her hands still fatally hidden from the agent's sight, and René pushed himself across the intervening space with a force that would have taken him into a long jump final, his trajectory sending him into Claire with a force that knocked the side of her hand painfully into his eye, and them both against the nearest wall.

The small pain was so blindly sudden, so utterly encompassing, that the blow in the side of his back hardly registered, only a sense of concussive impact that drove the breath from him, as though there had been an outlying piece of wall that had caught him in the side and stolen all air from his lungs.

"Sécurité Civile!" Claire was shouting over his shoulder from where he had her flattened to the filthy hangar wall. "Goddamn you, stop shooting! Sécurité Civile!"

And then the pain did hit him, and he didn't even have the breath to cry out with it.


It was far from the first time that René had woken up in a hospital bed, nor the first time he had been shot. It was, however, the first time that his thoughts were not, "Fuck that hurts" but rather, "Fuck, can I please just go home now?"

Claire had made a beginner's mistake, as raw as if she were just come from training, new to the field. She should have known better - she must have known better – but she had still destroyed the set-up with one movement of her hand. Even in his irritation, though, he could not regret having saved her from the shot. She was still his partner; even though he knew from the way he had felt all through the operation, a change was going to be a necessity. He no longer trusted her, and that same beginner's mistake was only a small part of his reasons.

The Interpol team had been exultant and amused and worried all at once, claiming the op as theirs while trying to do damage limitation over the fact that they had in fact deliberately aimed at and shot an Interior agent. Their focus on communicating with the German, Dutch and South African police had left the Interior entirely out of the loop and currently absolutely dumbstruck at the sheer stupidity of the information loss that had been going on for months, haemorrhaging contacts and details like a slaughterhouse cow.

Thanks to events in the hangar, the lack of communication between the teams was the least of Interpol's immediate worries, even if it was the first on the fulminating Prefect's mind. The agent who had actually fired his gun had been torn between gloating, apologising, and panicking as to his future, and René had later spent the most uncomfortable airlift of his life being stared at by Claire and given the third degree by the Prefect on a secure phone line, and wanting nothing more than the largest dose of morphine possible without actually killing him.

And now, here he lay, with nothing more to occupy him than pain and fretfulness. The bullet wound had been clean, in and out, extremely painful – and René had been prepared to explain this at some length to anyone who asked by the time Interpol had decided to call anyone remotely associated with the medical profession - but not truly life threatening. It would be enough to keep him off active duty for several weeks, but right then he could think of nothing he'd enjoy more than going home to his tidy home, ordered life and ratty sweater. He would not, he realised in some surprise, mind too much even if people happened to drop by – would even be glad to see them, as much as he was capable of it. Not, he thought somewhat wryly, that he was all that likely to escape them – Isa would visit him for certain; Olivier, too, even if his turning up would be born out of nothing more than an odd sense of personal duty mixed with curiosity - maybe Kitty, if she had time, or possibly with time made so that she could devote herself to thoroughly embarrassing him in some way he hadn't yet thought of for a couple of hours; and Lissa as a matter of course, being as she had in fact been on her shift when he was brought in, and had shown herself to have an invested interest in his well-being.

He laughed inwardly at himself. Odd how the bunch of them had managed to worm their way in past all the barriers he'd thrown up.

Lissa had read his name on the admittance list and come straight in to see him, a small compact tornado of efficiency combined with her knowledge of him to make his life almost instantly more bearable. The drugs had lowered all his usual defences against displaying his innate weaknesses, leaving him afraid of self-betrayal on top of the muted pain and vague disorientation, and Lissa's quiet, unobtrusive changing of small things so that everything within his line of vision was neatly ordered had been a kind of miracle to him in his blurred, unhappy state of being.

But even with all that, he still had only one thought, "When can I go home?"

Lissa patted his arm in a vaguely maternal and comforting way, "I'll see what I can find out. Drink some more water in the meantime. You know the drill - you can't go home if you're full of drugs or can't piss."

She gave him a smile that actually reached her eyes, looking reassuringly friendly and un-medical, and left, headed toward – he hoped – the nurses' station and his medical file.

"Oh wonderful," René said to the ceiling, feeling like his own personal cloud to the world's silver lining. "Reliant upon my bladder capacity for escaping this room and getting to be somewhere comfortable. The fun just never ends."

He looked rather edgily at the phone on his bedside table, wondering when it would ring again with the Prefect's latest bout of dyspeptic fury at Interpol's disregard for the Interior, and why he never seemed to get calls from anyone else. It wasn't as though Claire had even been able to stay around long enough to find out the extent of the damage he had incurred, being almost physically removed from the scene to make her own report.

He was fairly sure that in some other universe, partners actually got time to show whether they cared or not, whatever their feelings happened to be.

Here though, his own universe had narrowed down to this room and this bed and, apparently, the gigantic covered glass of water on his bedside table.

René picked it up and took a few desultory sips at it, glancing at the huge clock over the door. Claire would probably be home by now, bathing and changing into her own things, having lunch or a nap and--

"Shit." René sat the glass down and snatched up his phone.

He had never been as grateful for his eidetic memory as the fact he could dial Isa's mobile, barely seen once when its owner programmed it into his phone, without having to go through the Sûreté desk or deal with the too-helpful Connie.

It was, however, of no avail, as it sent him straight to voicemail, with Isa telling him far too cheerfully – 'You know what to do – don't let the fridge take this call!'

René closed his eyes and tried not to think along that tangent, then took a deep breath and mustered coherency.

"Isa, it's René. We're back in Paris. I'm assuming Claire's gone home, so for God's sake at least warn Olivier before he leaves work – I don't want him to -"

He cut himself off abruptly, snapping the phone shut on reflex as Claire appeared in the doorway, and swallowed with sudden difficulty as he looked into her wide eyes.

"Claire," he started hopelessly, and then stopped, knowing that there was nothing for him to say whether she had heard or not. His reaction to her appearance had been too utterly telling in its mistrust for them to have anywhere to go from there but the dissolution of their partnership.

"René." Claire looked at him, her eyes narrowed in speculation. He couldn't read anything of her thoughts, even knowing his own had been so transparent. He damned the drugs in his system for making him so vulnerable. "Still alive, I see."

"More or less," René acknowledged.

"I met the doctor in the corridor," Claire continued, not moving from her place in the doorway. "He said to tell you to shut up, drink your water, be good and they might let you have some fruit juice later with even more drugs. I took that as a sure sign you're not going anywhere soon. So I thought it might be a kindly gesture if I offered to pick up what you needed from your house."

Her eyes remained clear and open, with no hint of hurt or worry in them, only the same cool indifference he had come to fear.

"Thank you," he said, and mustered the last of his reserves to wait for whatever she really wanted to say.

"But then I heard you talking on the phone to Isa." She picked up the water glass from the tray and sat it back down on the bedside table, just beyond what would be his easy reach. "Why is it that you think my husband needs to be warned of my return, I wonder? Is there something you know that I don't?"

"I don't think so," René said with equal coolness. "I think you know more than anyone. I don't credit you with that degree of obtuseness, even though it would be preferable to think you're guilty of no more than a blind lack of understanding. But I know you better." He smiled, the corners of his mouth tight and contained, letting her see that honesty might be his last weapon, but it was of no frail sort.

The last word came out as a vicious purr, terrifying in its smoothness, "And I know you as well, René. What I don't know is exactly what you've said to Olivier. Has my darling husband been confiding his fears to you? I won't ask if the reverse is true."

"I'm not one to inspire confidences," René said simply. "Confidence, perhaps, but not confidences. Nor, if Olivier were the type to confide, would I break that confidence. You know me too well to think that, Claire, as you said. And if you know me so well, then you should also be aware of the fact that I am not one to repeat either side of a conversation for mere personal gratification. So your question is, to put it mildly, pointless in the extreme."

Claire laughed lightly, "No, I didn't expect it, but sometimes how a question is avoided is almost as telling as how it might be answered."

René rolled his eyes. "Spare me," he said irritably. "I taught you that game years ago. The only thing it's going to inspire in me is bad temper, and everyone will queue up to forgive me and put it down to the irrationality of pain. Either go away or say your piece – I'm done with playing for today." He waved a hand vaguely. "Interpol's lack of rules adherence has exhausted my stamina."

"Oh, but I'm enjoying this far too much, René." She laughed again, idly picking up things on his table and then setting them down just slightly askew. His hands itched to set them right, but he restrained himself. "You think that Isa needs to warn Olivier that I've come back. Hmmm…It makes me wonder about your reasons for hurrying us out on this op in the first place."

"Oh, why don't you tell me," René said wearily, wishing that she would just leave him alone. He closed his eyes. "You're so much more entertaining in your rationale than I can ever be. And when you're done, feel free to leave as quietly as possible."

"It could only be a very few things," Claire continued, look at him out from under the veil of long dark lashes. "Either you wanted to get me away from Olivier…or you wanted to get away yourself." She stopped there, her eyes suddenly going wide, "Holy fuck, that's it. You've fallen in love with him."

René's breath stopped. "Don't be so ridiculous," he said, and his voice caught, leaving him coughing for a moment as his throat closed over. "For God's sake, Claire, that's beneath even you. You know I don't –" And there he stopped, because he had, once, hadn't he? He had, and vowed never again, vowed to bury that with Anne and let all the memory of the sundrenched, golden Oxford innocence of his world lie in cold earth with her. "I don't," he repeated more firmly. "I haven't. You're a fool."

Claire gave a cold cackle so far distant from her normal tinkling laugh that it was almost as if it came from another throat, "No, René, I think that this time it's you who are the fool. It's all so very amusing seeing you brought down by emotions, of all things. Because you've really no hope at all, have you? Olivier loves only me and that's how it will remain."

"Yes," René agreed, and the cold, cold anger filled him once more, leaving him feeling hard and brittle, as though his bones and skin were turned to ice and marble, the palms of his hands chilled against the thin blanket. "But you're pre-supposing something, Claire, the presumption of the truly arrogant, the utterly despicable on their false pinnacle. You're assuming I want anyone to feel about me the way Olivier does for you. Ever."

"Ah, but you see, that's the best part of the whole thing. It keeps him and all his money and his other…talents…right where I want them to be." The way she said talents brought images to René's mind that he absolutely did not want to have there. Images of Claire's slim pale body stretched beneath his own, her face contorted with a pleasure he did not share.

"Well," he said mildly, "good for you. With such perfection on display before me, don't you think you're overreacting a little to my desire to keep all these – benefits – of yours safe? Because that's really all I've done. I would have expected more gratitude than this, honestly."

With the worst of it over, he could repay her in her own coin, knowing that there was nothing more she could possibly say to shake him from his calm little abyss of horrified acceptance that she had spoken the truth.

But so had he, and that knowledge was a stronger fortress against her than she could imagine. He did not want that half-insane passion turned towards him, nor had he ever thought, even for a flicker, that it might be something he could possess. What he felt himself or did not feel was irrelevant, for there was a security in knowing it would not and could not be returned that Claire would never understand.

She gave him one last, long look, as if trying to divine the truthfulness of his statement, and then left without another word, turning on one elegantly clad heel and taking all her taunts and insinuations with her.

All René could do was breathe in his relief.


Whatever we focus on is bound to expand. Where we see the negative, we call forth more negative. And where we see the positive, we call forth more positive. Having loved and lost, I now love more passionately. Having won and lost, I now win more soberly. Having tasted the bitter, I now savor the sweet.
- Marianne Williamson.


Gervaise Dufay might be many things, among them a good administrator and a fair-minded boss, but public speaking would never be one of his strong points. Isa had been fighting sleep during their monthly 'strategy' meeting when Lissa had sent him a text message telling him that René had been brought into the hospital. He would have to thank René for giving him an excuse to escape. He was certain the other man would appreciate the irony in that.

He heard Lissa growling at René when he approached his hospital room and decided it might be better to hold his thanks. He'd been on the wrong side of Lissa's tongue often enough to know how flayed it could leave you feeling. Not, he doubted, that she wouldn't be telling René exactly what was what and everything he needed to do before he could be released in the clearest of terms…but she had little patience for people who refused to follow doctor's orders.

He suspected René, despite all his oddities, was like any other normal person stuck somewhere against his will and volition, and was hell-bent on ignoring all medical advice and his own body's dictates in order to get out and feel miserable somewhere relatively private and in peace. No-one, not even the most extroverted example of humanity, wanted to have their every moment of pain and unhappiness recorded on machines and noted on a chart for posterity.

Lissa, paid to ignore that instinct and overrule that need for privacy, had no time for it in patients she had no personal knowledge of, and even less in those she knew and cared for. Isa had come to accept that even a mild dose of the flu rendered him a victim to stringent rules and a timetable of behaviour that would have made the most agoraphobic man alive feel as though he were trapped in the Chateau d'If and needed to emulate Dantes right that second and escape.

"And it will be at least a week before you can even think about going home. That's just how it is, René. The doctor will let you leave then if, and only if he sees that you've actually done what it takes." Yes, those were definitely his Lissa's dulcet tones…telling René everything Isa was sure he did not want to hear.

He entered the room to see René, well...he wasn't exactly pouting, but he was certainly the closest Isa'd ever seen him come to it. It wasn't a good look on him, and Isa guessed it was being thoroughly unsuccessful.

"Oh good," Lissa said as he entered, unwittingly proving him right as to René's success story with regards to escape. "Maybe you can talk some sense into him."

"Er," Isa said, looking between her and René, whose pout had turned into a look that dared him to try at peril of his continuing existence. "Um. I don't think I was ever that good a psychologist?"

Lissa rolled her eyes in disgust. "Fine. Would you like a lecture on gunshot trauma instead?"

"Would that be the physical or psychological variety?" René asked wearily. "Because I think I've heard quite enough on both sides as the one who usually inflicts it."

Lissa opened her mouth, presumably to tell René exactly what she thought of his methods of deflection, and her pager went off. She unclipped it from her trousers, and looked at it, before sighing. "And that would be me, getting told to do some actual work with someone who needs it," she said. "René, just – do what you've been repeatedly told, would you?"

"Do I get told, too?" Isa asked, and she gave him a look that suggested he was about to be either kissed or thumped. He would have given both equal odds, knowing her.

"Mostly to stay off his feet," she said at last, rolling her eyes at him. Kissed, then, which was nice, if unfortunately not going to happen in a ward. "Bed rest, push fluids and eat something, would you, for God's sake. That will do for a start." She gave a puffing breath, blowing some escaped strands of hair out of her eyes, before dashing out of the room.

"Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there she goes, the love of my life and the bane of my existence… Hurricane Lissa." Isa chuckled and grabbed the bedside chair, sitting down in it with a faint wince. Hard and unyielding plastic never got any better. "Now, how do you actually feel… I mean besides wanting to get the hell out of here, which isn't happening any time soon as far as I can tell?"

He looked René over carefully. He was decidedly pale, with tight lines of pain etched around his mouth. His hair, which he normally kept immaculate, was limp and dry looking and he had shadows under his eyes that were dark and almost greyish. No, René would definitely be a guest in Hotel Hell for quite a bit longer than he'd be happy with.

"Rotten and on drugs," René said dismally. "And I'd kill for a shower, but I think the obligatory two inches of lukewarm water in the bottom of a bath are to be my lot in life." He made a face that Isa echoed. He vaguely remembered the allowed baths from having had his appendix out many years ago, and he had a feeling they wouldn't have improved.

"You look like you need one," he said in place of consolation. René just screwed up one side of his face and squinted at him irritably.


"Well, you do," Isa said, leaning back comfortably in his chair, a feat all on its own given that, like all chairs of its ilk, it had a back that no human spine could possibly accommodate itself to. "You probably smell, too."

"Is this where I say something about your mother?" René asked a bit hopelessly.

"If you feel the need. She's a dotty old bat and would probably say something about you right back," Isa chuckled. "And then feed you chicken soup and coddle you until you got well in self defence."

René looked vaguely horrified at the thought.

"Right, no mentioning mothers," he said with feeling. "So what have you done with Olivier? More to the point, what excuse did you give him?"

"The wha' fuck now?" Isa asked, genuinely confused. Olivier had gone out chasing some lead from his Army days hours before he ever got the message from Lissa, so unless this was René's incredibly bizarre way of asking where he was other than at the hospital, which would have been incredibly uncharacteristic and forced Isa to rethink his stance on painkillers, they had just entered the land of complete non sequiturs.

He thought he had seen a play about a game of tennis that needed those once, but he was not sure he was up to playing it.

"I mean when you told him that Claire was home." René continued.

"Claire's home? I mean, yeah she probably would be if you're…" Isa waved a vague hand at him. He knew that René had been worried about Olivier, and it intrigued him. Isa was worried about him too, but that was more in a how-will-I-pick-up-the-pieces way whereas what René was doing was more like let's-keep-him-from-getting-hurt-to-begin-with. Isa thought René was just fooling himself. Claire had already fucked up that relationship. Watching it was like watching two trains head toward each other on the same track. "Was I supposed to tell him?"

"That would be the point of the message I left on your phone, yes," René agreed with familiarly murderous pleasantry. Isa wondered if the number of ways René could, in fact, kill him with his brain had decreased or increased with his temporary physical incapacity, and hoped he wasn't going to find out in any kind of hurry.

"You left me a message?" he asked, his tongue and vocal cords operating in their usual too-fast-for-his-brain way, and leaving him wanting to smack his head into the nearest hard object. Judging from René's expression, he was suffering from a similar desire. Towards Isa's head, that was, not his own, although Isa thought there might be an element of that to it as well, and dear God but he needed to cut down on the caffeine pills, because they were turning him into a squirrel.

He pulled out his mobile and checked it. No messages.

"No… I called your desk." René sounded more than just a bit exasperated.

"I… I didn't check it. I was in a meeting but I came straight here when I got Lissa's text." Isa said. "But Olivier's out chasing down a lead and isn't expected back in the office for several hours. I guess I could call his mobile…if he remembered to take it…and has it turned on."

"Right, because clearly that's an area of yet-undiscovered Sûreté expertise," René said wearily. "Isa, you may be resigned to the fallout that's going to result from the nuclear-powered light at the end of this particular tunnel, but personally, I'd rather avoid as much hideousness as possible. And Olivier walking in on Claire unprepared is a sure-fire guarantee of us all suffering a kind of cosmic radiation. You have to work with him, don't you feel even the vaguest desire for damage limitation on your own behalf?"

And put like that...well. Selfish, possibly. True, definitely.

"I'll call him," Isa agreed.

"Smart man."

But the phone just rang, then went to voice mail. "Olivier? Isa. Call me before you head home. I need to talk to you… and yes, it's pretty damn urgent. René's in the hospital…He's going to be okay but… Just call okay."

There, that would just about guarantee a call, as well as tip him off that Claire would be home.

"I revise my opinion," René said. He looked vaguely bug-eyed. "Very, very stupid man."

"Oh, hey!" Isa said in protest. "That's guaranteed a call!"

"And me a visit," René agreed. "Do I look as though I'm in any state to be the one to deal with Olivier and his blasted shambles of a marital life? No, I didn't think so. Thank you, Isa, for demonstrating your amazing ability to make my life so much worse - oh God. No. No. Don't you dare pout. Don't even - stop it. Stop it right now." The last word was a groan of futility.

Isa added a slight tremble to his lower lip and batted his eyelashes. René reached behind him and threw his pillow at him, proving with great directness that yes, just as Isa had suspected, hospital pillows were, in fact, stuffed with bricks.

"Ow," they both said simultaneously.


Olivier was whistling quietly along with the radio as he pulled his car into the driveway, a subconscious action that was quickly cut short when he saw that Claire's car was already parked in the garage. He sat for a moment, trying to still his tumbling thoughts. He'd missed her while she was gone. He always did, but this time it made him even more determined that they would straighten out whatever it was that was causing their troubles. He loved Claire and that should - had to be - enough to get them back on track.

He climbed out of the car and slipped quietly inside, hanging his topcoat in the hall closet and then heading upstairs to welcome her home.

He climbed out of the car and slipped quietly inside, hanging his topcoat in the hall closet and then heading toward the stairs to welcome her home.


"I'm in here." Her voice came from the study, which surprised Olivier. It was very rare to find her there. That was really his domain. His bear's den, with all his masculine fripperies - dart board, card table, big screen television - where he hosted his turn at team night.

She was seated behind his desk, an envelope of some kind placed before her. "Hello, darling."

Olivier was starting to think that there was no endearment in any language capable of conveying such contempt – or evoking such dread.

"You look very business-like," he said with an attempt at raillery that fell as flat as he felt, judging by her unchanging expression. "I feel like an employee being called in to get his papers."

A shiver ran down his arm suddenly, making his hand shake, and he flexed the fingers instinctively, trying to control the little tell-tale movement.

Is that what they are in that envelope? My papers? A neatly tied divorce, all ready for me to sign without protest?

He was damned if he'd give her the satisfaction of refusing to fight, if that was so. They had something. He knew they still had something, that their marriage was worth more than a quick signature and a division of assets.

So why was he thinking of René's words in that hotel stairwell?

"Olivier, if she – if she makes you feel – she's not worth killing, let alone dying for. Not if it's true."

Worth fighting for, though, he thought in sudden response. Worth that. And I'm good at fighting. I excel. I win.

"Oh, not that," Claire put one hand over the top of the envelope, touching it hesitantly, almost as if it were some kind of live thing. "This, well, you'll see soon enough."

He nodded, not sure what his next step should be, "I'm glad to see you home safe. I'm always glad to see you home safe."

It was little more than the truth, but Claire looked at him almost nervously. "Are you?"

"Of course," he said, surprised that she should need to ask. Had he been drifting as far from her as that, so far that she even doubted that he cared? It was unthinkable. "More than anything. Even when you've pissed me off so badly I can't think straight, I want you safe." It was obviously to be a different kind of honesty that he gave this evening, very little to do with an attempt to sort things out between them and more an effort to prove himself. Well, he was used to that, God knew.

Her eyes suddenly went soft and warm, "Do you, Olivier? Do you really? Because I need to tell you something… something very important."

Olivier looked at her with puzzlement. Claire hesitant? About anything? The old Claire might have been, the Claire he had married, but not the new one. The professional. The agent. Where was this all coming from?

"I… I've been doing something horrible and I need you to forgive me."

Well, and good God, Olivier thought, stunned into silence. Confession? And then, surprising himself with its sudden cold clarity, a voice that did not even sound like his, though he knew it was, knew it to be the same voice that had guided him through the hellish months of his Afghan tour, asked –

Can you forgive her, then? Can you make it that easy for you both? Or is this your final surrender of every moral you claimed to possess?

He drew a deep breath, and closed his mind to it, thinking that what that voice knew about survival, it lacked in comprehension of any kind of emotion.

"Yes," he said. "Yes, whatever it is."

"Don't answer so quickly," Claire's voice was almost begging in its tone. "I don't know if I can even forgive myself. It… it all happened so quickly. We were all tied up in adrenaline and …." She squared her shoulders as if ready to take a punishment, "I'm having an affair with René. I didn't mean for it to happen but we finished a case and it was… was one of those things. We'd survived something horrible and … I wanted to stop seeing him but with us working together…."

"Having a – no," Olivier said with perfect certainty. "No, you're not. An affair with him?" The adrenaline he could believe, even a more than one-off fuck on some kind of high, but an affair? Impossible. "René's not capable of that kind of emotional involvement with a woman, Claire, there's nothing you can say that will make me believe otherwise."

But there's a faded sweater on the back of a chair in René's study that tells you otherwise, the voice reminded him with too-quick recollection. And he may have said he never lied to you, but then you never asked him this question, did you?

"No," he said again, but he could not keep the doubt from his voice.

She looked up at him, then walked around the desk, nibbling her lower lip nervously. "Yes. I hate to admit it… but yes. I'm sorry, Olivier… so, so sorry."

"But… but the man is a homosexual," and why did it feel like even that statement, in all its condemnatory-sounding detachment, its phrasing that he had thought himself long past, the accusing noun of it dead with his father, was grasping at the proverbial straw. "He couldn't…"

"I… I was surprised too. It… " She dropped her eyes and then handed him the envelope.

Papers after all, then, Olivier thought with a kind of observatory hysteria, and then - and if I had any sense I wouldn't look.

He had no sense, or his hands were operating without his volition, because he was watching them move to run under the flap and slide out the glossy, unforgiving prints, looking at the truth of it in high definition.

"I always thought these came in black and white," he said numbly. He thought that might have been better, making an art of it instead of the too-clear voyeurism that he held in his hands. He could have focused on light and shade and pattern, and not, helplessly, at Claire's hands pinned above her head, the smudged lipstick on her open mouth, René bent before her in adoration of the most carnal sort.

"I … I don't know what to say." He suddenly felt like he'd been kicked in the stomach - doubly betrayed by both Claire and René. He turned the pictures upside down on the desk, unwilling to look at them any longer.

"I'm sorry, Olivier. I…I tried to break it off, but René was so...insistent." She covered her face with her hands.

Olivier sat down, his knees feeling watery, his limbs detached and inconsistent, his body vaporising into numbness from the feet up, every breath he took dissolving him into imagery. He looked back at the desk, at the sheets of photographic paper almost glowing against the dark wood, with only the investigator's name printed on the bottom, in neat blue ink: Gaston Mauriette, Private Investigations.

God, how was he going to survive this? How? But at least Claire had come to him. She'd confessed. Told him the truth and given him proof. Proof from Monsieur Mauriette.

He stared at the backs of the photos again, something about them catching his attention, "Claire… where did these pictures come from?"

Something wasn't quite adding up.

"What does it matter, Olivier….?" She blotted her eyes daintily with a handkerchief.

"Mostly," Olivier said slowly, shock starting to leave his brain, clarity returning to him with a slowly painful crawl that was letting him know just how much of it he had lost, "because I'm trying to work out who the hell would be stupid enough to have paid an investigator to go after you two. I didn't. The Interior wouldn't. Isa probably would, but he'd have burned these and René'd be missing teeth, you wouldn't have an envelope of good prints. I can't think of anyone who'd want to blackmail either of you if they know who you are, and that leaves René, which just"

"Oh…oh…he was using them as a threat." Claire said, quickly, but it didn't quite ring true. "He was going to send them to you if I tried to…to break it off."

"So he gave you copies?" That still sounded off and very unlike René. But still, the pictures were very obviously not fake.

Claire nodded, shakily.

"But why would he –" Olivier stopped suddenly, remembering quite a different part of the conversation at the hotel, something he hadn't even been aware of registering at the time.

"I don't know why you've decided to lose your mind today, but the man up there is importing very large amounts of uncut heroin, I have had a horrible week learning to act as though I can't keep my married hands off your wife, and I do not need this utter crap right now, are you listening?"

He looked again at the pictures, ignoring Claire's aborted movement to get up from her seat, and saw the one thing that should have struck him immediately, would have been obvious except for the fact that he had reacted as he was supposed to, as the lover, as the husband, and not as the detective.

None of the pictures showed René's face in a full shot. Not from the time he came in the room to the final shot of the two sleeping figures.

Because he's not that good an actor. He knew the pictures were being taken, but he couldn't trust himself to keep the expression needed. And if he'd been that insistent, then he'd have known that would be the final damnation....

"Were these taken on the op?" he asked suddenly, looking up.

"What?" Claire's reaction was sharp and immediate. "No. I told you. René hired someone to take them… to hold on to me. "

"Claire. Do – not – lie." He snatched the photos back up and forced himself to look at them properly, examining them for the details he should have seen before. "There… that dress. You bought it just before you left."

"Olivier, don't be –"

"Ridiculous?" And for the first time he really did feel betrayal, the sickening sense that everything he was, everything he had worked so hard at, had been counted as nothing, all of it fodder for Claire's scheming, all of it to be filed away and counted as another button to push in his psyche. "But you want me to be. I'm doing just what you want, aren't I? Isn't this what you want? For me to be – utterly ridiculous?"

They were both on their feet now, staring at each other across the desk as though it were the long-demolished Berlin Wall.

"If you're not going to believe me then I'm going upstairs so bed." She turned, intending to flounce away from the confrontation as she had so many times before.

"No, Claire." He stood and grabbed hold of her arm, pulling her back towards the couch and forcing her to sit down. "It's time we had this all out. Long past time, actually." He was furious, at Claire for trying to play this game and himself for believing her…again. "Why did you want me to think you were having an affair with René, of all people?"

He still didn't understand that.

"Because," Claire said, slowly, icily picking her words with a clear precision that horrified him, "I was hoping you'd kill him."

"That I'd what?" Olivier looked at her, startled. "Why the fuck would you want me to kill René? He's your partner." Why would she want him to kill René even if he wasn't her partner was probably more to the point. "Are you insane?"

"No," Claire said calmly. "But I do know that the last thing I need in my life is a partner who can't trust me and who'll put his odd little approximation of a friendship with my husband before our work. You've turned him from a beautiful machine into a liability, Olivier, and what use is he to anyone like that?"

Olivier laughed, but it didn't have anything to do with amusement. "You don't think René can trust you so you want me to kill him? Well, fuck… that shows he's wrong, doesn't it? He should absolutely trust the woman who's trying to get her husband to kill him in a jealous rage."

"Yes," Claire said. "He should. He should trust me more than anyone alive. He has to."

"Because Christ knows you can't not be France's most wanted by all and sundry!" Olivier shouted. "Jesus Christ, woman, what is wrong with you? René doesn't want you one way so you have to be his all-in-all in everything else? Do you have any idea what you sound like? You sound like one of the people I work to put away!"

He supposed, later, that he should have expected the blow that came shortly after that comment, but he hadn't. Nor had he expected it to be made more powerful by the fact that Claire was clutching the telephone when she swung at him. He managed to deflect some of the force, but it still made his head ring and his sight grey out for a moment.

It was only then, in the later that part of him had been unable to imagine, that he worked out that she had been intent on keeping going until he finally hit her back, but all he could think at the time was that she was actually trying to kill him, and even with his sight flickering in eight dancing and layered views like a demented and broken old video in fast-forward, he was aware enough to know he was not going to allow that final surrender.

He moved away as best he could, the room spinning around him, "Claire…stop!"

"No, damn it. Can't you for once do what the fuck I want you to do? You're useless. Completely useless." She swung at him again, knocking him back. He stumbled and fell against the desk and was sure he felt at least two of his ribs crack. "You're only good for one goddamned thing."

The back of his hand cracked across her face almost before he knew what he was doing, his wedding ring catching on her lip and splitting it open as he watched his actions almost in wonder.

She brought her free hand to her mouth, and took it away again slowly, looking at the blood on her fingertips as though transfixed. Then she looked up at him again, and there was nothing but victory glowing in her eyes.

It felt as though something that had been held very tightly for a very long time in Olivier's mind had snapped, an almost physical feeling that was at once a relief and a kind of horror at once.

"I should kill you," he said, his voice as slurred and thick as any drunk, and moved forward, seeing nothing but the victory in her face, feeling nothing but the strange, disconnected joy of hate. He put his hands around her throat, the thumbs starting to press in, waiting for her expression to change, waiting for some kind of realisation to hit her, that he meant it, that in that moment, all he wanted or could ever think of wanting was her death.

She stared up at him, utterly without fear, still smiling, even as he waited for her to struggle, to raise the phone and hit him again, anything but this strange spellbound web of dazzled loathing that was holding them both – and as he looked at that odd smile, he felt the tendons in his wrists relax, his hands falling away before he had consciously willed them to do so, falling down with something that was less movement than simple gravity, to lie numb and graceless and heavy at his sides.

"I should kill you..."

"You don't have the stomach for it," Claire taunted him, stepping away. She turned, took another step, then whirled around, pivoting on one high heel, and threw the phone at him, barely missing hitting his head a second time. She waited to see whether he would react, before breathing out something that was apparently laughter, judging from her twisted, angry smile, and walking out of the room.

Olivier, clinging on to not moving from his spot as the only way to stop himself from following her and carrying out his threat, slid down the front of the desk until he was seated on the floor, the room spinning slowly around him. He wondered how long he'd have to sit there before he could manage to call for help… or if he'd just pass out and still be there when Claire got back from wherever she was going. Somehow that didn't seem like his best choice.

"Olivier?" It was odd, really, but of all things for his addled brains to deal out, he hadn't thought Isa's voice would be one of them.

"Olivier, what the hell is –" Isa's worried, scowling, and at that moment infinitely dear face came into far-too close view. "Well, fuck," he said.

"Succinct," Olivier said. His voice still sounded as though he had been on a three-day drunk.

So not emotion, then, he thought. Just concussion.

"Yeah, well." Isa was still peering at him as though he were reading the secrets of the Rosetta Stone. "You know, I really hate it when this happens."

"The fuck?" Olivier was completely lost. He couldn't remember an occasion even remotely similar from his past that would have led Isa to say that.

"Fucking super-spook getting it right," Isa said incomprehensibly, and then straightened up. "Right. Pop quiz, Olivier."

"Yes, I've got a concussion?" Olivier hazarded wearily. He wasn't in the mood for Isa's coping strategies, no matter how glad he was to see him.

"Yeah, thanks, I know that one," Isa said. "No, the question is: are you going to be good and get in my car so I can drive you to the hospital, or am I going to have to give you another concussion and knock you out so I can just take you there?"

"The first…." Olivier answered. "I know you love a challenge… but I don't think… I'd be much of one…" Although, given a bit more incentive, he might possibly manage to throw up on him… a lot. That thought made him laugh and then clutch his stomach as his broken ribs made themselves known.

"Er, right, that," Isa agreed a bit absently, but he was looking past Olivier with a kind of fixed horror. Blurrily wondering what the hell was under the chair that could be so damn traumatising, Olivier turned his head a slow and painful fraction of an inch, and saw the photos.

"Ah," he said.

"Hospital!" said Isa desperately. "Hospital now hospital and oh God I want to go blind."

"I'm going blind," Olivier said grimly, which at least made Isa focus enough on the immediate problem, which was getting him to move, and stop staring at the photographs as though they were Marley's ghost.

At least, Olivier thought, he would be able to pass out once he got to the car.

It seemed like the best idea he'd had in months.


In retrospect, Isa thought, he should have taken the going blind option as being, if more permanent, less painful. Triage sounded wonderfully organised and exactly what you wanted if you were responsible for someone with a head injury, but if you hadn't in fact been brought in by ambulance at death's door, it was close to one of Dante's circles of hell. He couldn't remember if there had been one of excruciating boredom and waiting rooms, but he was fairly sure there should have been. Limbo just didn't begin to describe its stultifying horror.

Things hadn't been helped by Olivier deciding he was going to play the card of 'no, I'm fine, my friend's just making a fuss', which of course the idiots at the desk listened to and promptly put him on the three-hour waiting list for the first part of even getting looked at, which would be when they decided if x-rays were needed. Since Isa could have told them with enormous certainty that yes they sodding well were, he was left wrong-footed by Olivier's apparent clarity and unimpressed with the whole system.

He supposed that telling the desk-assessor that it was no good going by whether Olivier could answer questions coherently, because he could probably do it in his sleep, had been unhelpful in the extreme, being as it had simply guaranteed them complete alienation as well as a long wait, but he had been frustrated enough to want to pull the Sûreté card, let alone quietly go along with whatever fairytale Olivier was idiot enough to concoct.

"Because yeah, your reputation is so much more important than if your brain swells and you die," he concluded at the end of a long tirade on these subjects which had come under the guise of keeping Olivier awake. What he had actually wanted to do was share the misery, but then he thought Olivier, if not the triage nurse, who was apparently determined to see everyone else in the waiting area before Olivier, had probably figured that out.

"Might as well just take me back home," Olivier grumbled, then slumped. "Except where you can't because I'm not going back there…ever."

Which Isa could understand, with the exception of the fact that the house actually belonged to Olivier and had been paid for with his money, lock, stock and designer furnishings. He hadn't really managed to get much detail about what had happened, but between the photos he'd seen - Oh, God, the photos! - and the fact that Claire had almost run him over in her hurry to get away, he had a general idea of what the fight had been about at least. It surprised him though, to think that Olivier had hired someone to follow Claire and get proof of her cheating. Even more of a surprise that they'd actually managed to track her and that, if he wasn't mistaken, René was the man in the pictures with her.

The last was the real shocker.

"So yeah," he said, his brain having happily provided him with a diversion with regards to Trezeguet's recent return to footballing form that he was only too glad to follow, "those photos. That was René, yeah?"

Unfortunately, his mouth had apparently had a completely different idea from his brain and wanted nothing to do with Trezeguet, football, or anything nice and neutral. It was, however, very sure about keeping Olivier awake.

"And.....that would be me getting divorce papers for my mouth," he added rather faintly.

"Not now, Isa." Olivier groaned, looking unsure as to whether he should clutch his aching head or his burning ribs. "It was but… there's more to it than that."

The command of 'not now' was then reinforced by the return of the triage nurse, who escorted Olivier out of the waiting room and towards the exam rooms.

"Yeah… where he'll probably have to wait another hour before he ever sees a doctor."

"Is there any reason why you're taking up a seat here?" demanded the nurse at the desk in distinctly unfriendly tones. Unusually, Isa hadn't known anyone at emergency during their wait, and was fairly sure he never wanted to change that state of affairs. He looked around the mostly empty room, scratched his chin, and said,

"Well, there's lots of them?"

"Are you injured?"

"No!" Isa said, far too brightly. He supposed she wasn't interested in hearing about the current state of his psyche, which was in a corner somewhere licking its wounds. "I'm great!"

The nurse's expression suggested that she would strongly like to dispute that assertion. "Would you like to go and be 'great' somewhere else?" she said. It was not a suggestion.

"Well, I'd really like to be 'great' back in the exam rooms with my friend…." the nurse scowled at him and Isa half-way expected a murderous sounding cackle to erupt at any moment, "…but since that's not going to happen I suppose I could take a walk."

"You do that." The nurse turned back to her charts.

"Right," said Isa. "So I'll just....go for a walk. See? This is me. Going. For a walk. Somewhere....else."


"And you know what, she didn't even look up!" Isa said in disgust, sprawling onto the end of René's bed and ignoring its occupant's pained grunt as he leant his elbows on a pair of somewhat bony shins. "There I was, walking out backwards, court bows and all, and she didn't even look at me! I ask you, what is this world coming to?"

"Damnation and ruin," René said, staring at him as though he had just turned green and started spouting off reams of Somali poetry. "I'm sorry, can you run that by me again?"

"I did all this bowing, and she didn't even –"

"Not. The. Nurse." René bit out.

Not the nurse? Isa frowned for a moment. "You mean about me bringing Olivier in?"

"No! I mean about you dancing the polka with the Pope! You idiot! Of course I mean about you bringing Olivier in… to Emergency. What happened to him?"

"Oh, that," Isa said. "Yeah, Claire beat him up with a telephone 'cos she showed him the photos. You know. Of you and her."

"What?" René whispered.

"Yeah, I don't get it either," Isa agreed. "If he'd gone for her with a telephone – or a pick-axe, come to think of it – I'd get it, but no, he has to do everything arse-to-front, Olivier does."

"Isa." René's voice went suddenly steely. "I need you to concentrate for a moment. What pictures are you talking about?"

"The ones of you…and Claire and…You know, you and Claire." Isa's words failed him and he resorted to a rather overly descriptive hand motion to explain what was happening in the pictures. "Those pictures."

"But how did – how could – Günter's dead," René said, and okay, maybe he'd got a concussion too that no-one had picked up on, because that made no sense at all.

"Who?" Isa asked blankly.

"Günter. The man who wanted the..." René's voice trailed off, and he leant back, closing his eyes. "Fuck," he said softly. "Oh, fucking hell. He didn't want anything of the sort. She set me up."

"What," Isa asked, sitting upright and producing his best scowl, "are you on about?"

Isa had no idea who Günter was or how Claire showing Olivier fuck-pictures of her and René could be a set up, but he wanted to know and he wanted to know immediately.

"I can't give you details, Isa. You know that -" René began.

"So don't give me details, just tell me what the hell you're talking about."

René screwed his eyes up into slits, half-laughing with a kind of incredulity. "Um..."

"Fuck off, you know what I mean," Isa said, smacking his hand onto René's feet just to hear the satisfying yelp. "Tell."

"Right," René said, shaking his head. "What are you, the confessional? Completing an op isn't a sin, and you're no ghostly father..."

"You fucked Claire for an op?" Isa felt his mouth drop open. "Jesus Christ, René, that must have taken balls!"

"Well." René's mouth twitched. "Yes."

"Oh, shut up," Isa grumbled, feeling his face redden.

"We were on an op, Claire told me Günter – the very very dead Günter – needed proof of our relationship, I obliged in numerous camera-friendly poses, and apparently Olivier has the results," René said with a succinctness Isa envied even as he didn't quite comprehend it, because he was still fairly lost as to why whoever Günter was would have needed photos, or why René would have thought Günter needed photos, unless –

"Oh, yuck," he said, his brain finally making the connections. "What a sleaze."

"Except apparently he wasn't," René said, and then – "Well, not that kind of sleaze, anyway."

"Then who took the pictures and how did Claire get them?" Isa frowned, shaking his head "Because even with Olivier knowing that you… you know, don't swing that way… Damn, that fucking bitch."

Claire had to know that Olivier would put the worst possible spin on the whole thing. He would have felt, not only betrayed by both Claire and René, but like an idiot for being taken in by René's 'gay act'. Seeing those pictures had pretty much convinced Isa that René was at least capable of being with a woman, so what Olivier's reaction had been was a fairly horrifying thought.

"I have no idea who took them," René said calmly, "but I'll assume Claire hired whoever it was, and that, I think, answers nearly all resulting questions. And you know better than to think what way I 'swing' has anything to do with a performance put on for the benefit of an audience, Isa."

Isa flinched a little at that, the comment coming too close to what he had been thinking for him to be entirely comfortable with how it had answered what he carefully hadn't said. He looked up from the fascinating weave of the thin blanket over the bottom of the bed, to find that René wasn't calm at all. He was deeply, homicidally angry.

Fuck. Claire got her target wrong, if she wanted to get Olivier angry out of his skull with this. René looks like he'd commit murder right this second if she walked in.

He took a deep breath and ran one hand over his face, "Yeah, well, that explains what the fight was about. And why Olivier is down in A and E with a concussion and broken ribs. Even as hurt and angry as he had to have been, he couldn't bring himself to kill the bitch…or even fight back."

"Are you sure about the last?" René asked carefully, and Isa blinked at him, ready to leap to Olivier's defence – before he realised that René was not making any sort of accusation. He was drawing on what he knew of Claire. "Because you see...if she wanted a certain reaction from him? I'm damned sure she wouldn't have stopped until she got at least an approximation."

Isa winced. "Yeah, I – I don't know." Olivier hadn't been prepared to talk about it in any sort of useful detail, and he hadn't been able to make out more than the blurred side of Claire's face through the side window of her car as she accelerated past him, so any visible marks would have been hidden from him in any case.

"I think I do," said René, and rubbed his hand over his face. "Fuck. I need to get off these drugs, I can't think straight. I've got a fair idea of what she was aiming for, but my mind keeps bouncing off something, and I can't work out what it is..."

"You need to rest as well. I'll let you know as soon as I find out what's up with Olivier," Isa told him. "I guess he's coming home with me. He says he won't go back to the house and I can't say that I blame him."

Though God only knew where they'd put him in their tiny place. Still, Lissa would have his hide if he let him go to a hotel, and he didn't really like that idea either.

"Fun," René said blandly, and Isa laughed, somehow immeasurably relieved by the simple fact that someone else apart from him could care and have priorities that weren't based entirely on pragmatism, and still have a grasp of the pure basic facts of everyday life. "He's going to be such a wonderful houseguest."

"Yeah, thanks for that," Isa said, and got to his feet, stretching his arms above his head until they nearly touched the ceiling. He rolled his head from side to side, letting his neck crack out the myriad of kinks that even being in proximity to a hospital bed seemed to engender in him, and sighed in relief as some of the tension eased out of his shoulders. "He snores."

"I'll bet you any money," René said, "that you snore worse."

Isa stuck his tongue out at him. "Get some sleep, super-spook," he said, not unkindly. "I think we're gonna need that brain of yours before we're done."


René, unusually and with an acquiescence that would have concerned anyone who knew him well enough to see it for what it was, did exactly as he was told over the next three days. He drank enough fluids to refloat a sunken ship, ate what was put in front of him, did no more and no less than he was permitted, and stayed almost silent other than when Lissa or Isa were in his room. He asked for a meeting with the Prefect, and quietly stated his intention to work without a partner from that point forward, offering neither reason nor excuse, even when pressed.

He allowed the police officer outside his door, and let them stop whoever they pleased from gaining access, even when that meant Kitty with books and a basket of oddly expensive fruit.

It meant barring Olivier, and he was prepared to seem as insane as everyone liked in order to give himself that small modicum of peace.

He was amazed, however, at just how much that bid for peace hurt. To hear that pleasantly gruff voice attempt to talk his way past the sentinel left him with an ache that had little to do with any physical hurt and everything to do with his damnable situation. The fact that Olivier sounded disappointed when he was refused admittance just left him further confused.

He had caused untold damage, however unwittingly, caused it and had to live with the knowledge of what he had done as much as either Olivier or Claire. The fact that he would rather have torn out his own heart than willingly participated in Claire's scheme cut no ice with his own morality, and he was surprised that it should have done so with Olivier. He could only assume that the full extent of what he had caused had not sunk in yet with the detective, for he had no doubt that when it did, he would need that guard at his door as much as he needed the gun under his pillow, brought in by the Prefect with the assumption that it would be taken to his house by some friend, and kept without much care for who knew he still retained it.

René spent his waking hours obediently going through the motions, while his mind worked and worried at what Claire had done after she left his hospital room, which was, even by their own self-imposed and peculiar standards, incomprehensible – and what she had said to him scant minutes before her leaving.

"Holy fuck, that's it. You've fallen in love with him."

He wished to God that he'd never heard them. Wished even harder that he didn't feel them. And prayed, truly and fervently prayed to a God he had tried to forget, prayed as he had not done in ages, that it would all simply go away.

This, he thought, this is what happens when you allow people into your life. Mass confusion. Disarray.

But even so, he could not regret accepting what the members of Olivier's little group – Olivier's odd, chosen family – had offered.

He could not regret it, but he did not want it, either, did not want the sheer unforgiving brutality of emotion that he was now unable to deny had become a part of him, and in not wanting it and being unable to reject it both, suffered the strange conglomeration of guilt and hope and disbelieving misery that he had thought long since left behind him.

In his bleaker, more pain-filled hours, when he fought a growing dependency on drugs as well as worry and personal unhappiness, he thought of honour and death and judgement, and how he had failed to uphold the tenets of all.

He found nothing in past reading to console him, found no resources in memory or spiritual comfort to help him. He merely suffered through it as he re-learnt the use of his abdominal muscles, and suffered through the stretch and pull and raw accommodation of his heart and his body alike.

The only fact that cheered him at all was Claire's continued absence. She had not again appeared at the hospital, and according to Isa, had not been seen at her home since her fiery departure. His superiors probably knew her location, but he hadn't asked and no one had volunteered to enlighten him. It was one less cause for immediate worry, or so he tried to tell himself. But another part of him felt hair prickling on the back of his neck so badly that he asked Isa to have all the locks changed on his home and the alarm codes reset.

Isa, despite all his odd tangents and his annoying tendency to analyse motive and action with indiscriminate glee, had been a surprising comfort in the incredibly weary hours that had followed his visit during Olivier's lengthy triage process. He had brought in snippets of casework and forensic intelligence that had distracted René with a strength nothing Kitty's books could emulate, and sat for the visiting hours chatting about nonsensical idiocies with a panache that had left René helpless with laughter rather than with misery.

He told René about Olivier's snoring and his terrible habit of putting the ashtray in the kitchen and on top of the oven fan, so that unwary breakfast-makers tended to open the extractor fan up and send cigarette butts and ash spilling all over the stove top. He playacted a conversation between Lissa and Olivier with regard to just how loud Lissa and Isa's sex life apparently was at two in the morning with a vivid emulation of all parties described and involved that bordered on the pornographic, and concluded by saying –

"So now we're all bloody celibate, thanks to Claire. What a fucking shower. Or, you know. Not. At all."

But apparently, apart from some residual pain and tenderness, and some lingering light-headedness, Olivier was recovering nicely. He was brooding horribly, in between his flashes of annoying everyone into insanity, and drinking far too much, but he was scheduled to return to desk duty before the end of the week.

"And thank God for that," Isa waved his hands in the air like a demented Southern Preacher, "maybe getting back to work will give him some distraction and he'll get out and look for a place of his own."

René just looked at him, and Isa offered up a shamefaced smile.

"All right, so maybe after a bit of incessant nagging, he'll get out and look for a place of his own..."

"Now that I believe," René agreed.

"Alas, I'm a horrible friend." Isa giggled, a rather nasty sound. "But sleeping on my couch for twelve to fourteen hours a day and then drinking in between is not good for him…or me."

"Or your sex life," René added in his mildest tones, and Isa snorted.

"No, or that. I don't much care what he does about that side of things, to be honest, but I'm damned if I'm going to join in the giant misogyny party."

"There's a party?" René blinked. "No-one invited me."

"Yeah, no, that would be the bit where you actually like women, despite not having any sort of appreciative sense. So no invitations to Olivier's current dance."

"However will I survive?" René asked.

"Well, if you agreed to, oh, I dunno, talk to him or let him in or something, you might get one hand-delivered, but you aren't doing that, so hey! No party invites for you..."

"No, indeed not," was René's only answer.

Isa, apparently, still did not understand why René was avoiding Olivier, in spite of the fact that even Lissa had been eager to assure René in person at three in the morning and in the middle of her shift that Olivier held him blameless for the whole debacle – and if Lissa knew that then Isa must do, even if only by default. René wasn't quite sure he understood his own actions, but he was very certain indeed that he wasn't ready to see Olivier. Not yet. Possibly not ever.

No. He'd never say never, although it might be for the best all around if he did. He knew that eventually they would need to speak and get this all straightened out between them, even if that lead directly back to the 'never' part of things.

Claire's blankly angry face. "Holy fuck, that's it. You've fallen in love with him."

Anne, annihilatory kindness personified, trying to dry her damp frizz of curls in the car heater, and apologising even as she tried to explain. "Everyone falls in love with...well, what looks like being unobtainable only not really. The trick is to stop him trying to fall in love with you back. He's so...bad at it. And you're so – God, it sounds stupid, and feeble, and a criticism, and it's not, honestly it's not, but you're sort of deep-down nice, René, and it's not fair that you fall into stuff all blind like this. Please don't think I'm warning you off, I'm not. I just – I don't think you're the type to bounce back from getting your heart broken, are you?"

Never, never, never. He would not allow it now, as he had refused to permit it then. He had to try and hold to it, however much his every fibre of being fought against it. Had to say it and believe it and let it cost him what it might, because he could not go on pretending that he was not responsible, that he was not part of the whole foul mess, that he was not the deus ex machina that had caused Claire's outburst.

"Your brain," said Isa, "is going in circles. Stop it."

René gave a small, almost indiscernible shrug, "It does that on its own, I'm afraid. Unchecked and unbidden… and completely unrestrained."

"You need more distractions," Isa decided. "If you won't see Olivier, you should at least let Kitty in. She's amusing in a Gene-Simmons-biting-the-head-off-a-chicken kind of way."

"And thank you for putting that revolting image in my head."

"You're entirely welcome," Isa said serenely, and flopped face forward out of his chair and onto the bed with a groan. "God, my back's killing me. Olivier's killing me. Celibacy is killing me. I'm doomed to an early grave and no-one cares."

"Woe," René agreed. "Get off my feet."

"Your feet are my only consolation," Isa said with morbid melodrama.

"Nothing in the world is that bad," René said, trying to move the tightly tucked-in sheets enough to give Isa a good kick in the jaw.

"Oh yeah?" Isa turned his head to look at him. "How about being love struck over a brooding git who's got no more sense than a randy lemming?"

The sudden silence in the room was as thick as morning fog.


"My thoughts exactly." Isa smirked. "Why don't you, so we can?"

"Because Olivier," René howled, at the end of all patience and discretion, "is straight! As well as being in love with Claire, which is – okay, actually that makes him closer to asexual than I am."

"Which is a really depressing thought, being as you're a monkish weirdo, but yeah, point." Isa scowled. "Ok, we'll fix him up with someone and you up with someone and then you can both fuck only not each other and I can too!"

"Oh my God," René moaned.

"Or, you know," Isa continued, undeterred, "you could try just being his friend. He's already been mentally fucked upside-down and sideways and being avoided by you isn't helping him in the slightest."

It was either a blatantly obvious ploy or simple statement of fact, or possibly both.

"Right," René said through gritted teeth. "Because obviously talking to the man who last fucked his wife is going to really sodding help, isn't it?"

Isa sighed.

"Yeah," he said. "It is. So get your head out of your arse and stop being such a coward. Because yeah. That's exactly what'll help. Get over yourself, René. You're not all that on toast. But you're a bloody good friend when you put your mind to it. So – you know. Start."

René frowned. He didn't think Isa knew what he was talking about, but still, didn't Olivier have the right to confront the man who helped break up his marriage? The right to look him in the face or even knock him down if that would help? And, as much as he loathed the whole psychobabble idea, it might give Olivier the closure he needed and the encouragement to move forward.

Self-sacrifice had never been a huge motivating force in his life, but just this once, for Olivier, he thought he might be willing to martyr himself…just a little.

The question was whether Olivier was ready to deal with a martyr, because from what he knew of their lives, they had proved to be perfectly unbearable company in everyday life.

"Okay," he said at last. "When I get out. I'll talk to him when I get out of here."

"Good," was all Isa said in reply, and patted his feet. "I like concessions."

René just sighed.


The early afternoon sky was clouded and rain-heavy, no breaks in its dark rolling surface to allow even the tiniest shaft of light to peek through. It gave a feeling of depressed waiting to everything, as if all time and movement were slowed, dragging on towards something that they were not looking forward to.

Olivier let out a sarcastic huff of air. The weather matched his mood perfectly. He was going to pick René up from the hospital and he didn't know who he should feel angry at for arranging it. But there it was. Isa was deeply embroiled in their current case. Kitty was off on day two of a three day conference, though why anyone needed to be on a conference at all when all it taught was how to deal with ancient paperwork was beyond Olivier's understanding. Connie was tending to her mother-in-law who had some kind of flu, or possibly a minor head cold – whatever it was, it demanded all her time and attention.

And that left Olivier.

Lissa had called him from the hospital and told him to, "Get your head out of your ass, Olivier, and get down here. I'm not sending the poor man home in a cab, for God's sake, I don't care what he says."

And as Lissa had spoken, here he was, as much cowed by her forceful nature as Isa on his best days.

He had stopped short, Lissa or no, at waiting in the main reception area downstairs. There were some things no-one should be asked to deal with, and superior, disinfectant-smelling linoleum-looking tiles on which various lost or desperate-looking people were skidding around as they looked for the right endless corridor were among them.

So he was fending off glowers from the porter outside the main entrance and waiting for a damn sight longer than the allotted two minutes in the main drop-off and pick-up point, wondering if perhaps he should just feed one of the ever-hungry meters for two hours' worth of time, and hope he could see René - if and when he was released - over the sea of car roofs.

And when René did arrive, finally, it was completely without the usual fanfare. No group of family accompanying him. No flowers and get well gifts of cards and balloons and other whatnots, just René and a small bag of clothes and books, neat and tidy in a wheelchair, with Lissa pushing him. Their heads were close together as she leaned down to give him last minute instructions, his turned up to look at her politely. It hit Olivier that this was one of the things that had made him like René in the first place, no fuss and feathers, and no pretence. It was if his work life was so full of all those things that he simply refused to allow it to carry over into his personal life any farther than was absolutely necessary.

He was the personification of everything that came without any sort of baggage, even the small collection of belongings somehow as spare as an ordered desk. No lingering thanks or overt gratitude for René, only the desire and the ability to tidy himself away into pure neutrality, undemanding and undermanned.

It was at once a great relief and the saddest thing Olivier knew – but then everything struck him as morbidly unhappy these days, from his own folded blankets at the bottom of Isa's couch to the way de Treville was trying to subdue his wrathful sarcasm when addressing him.

The look of pure, unadulterated horror that crossed René's face when he caught sight of Olivier and his waiting car went a long way to restore his faith in the innate black humour of the world. He wondered if he could get René to look like that on a regular basis, and thought that when he announced his newly-made intentions, it might just become a permanent fixture.

The thought made him greet René with a smile. Judging from René's responding wince of an attempt at returning it, his expression was perfectly terrifying.

He stalked around the car and opened the passenger door, taking charge of René's possessions and his person with a strange sense of both confusion and purpose. He was angry, certainly, angry that René had refused to see him up until this moment, feeling that he had been, somehow, cheated out of something important. But he wasn't sure what. He had no vengeful plans for the man with whom Claire had last slept, no desire to make René feel any guilt over any of her contrivances. They had both been managed, deceived on different levels, and thankfully had both survived relatively intact. They were now both members of that very select fraternity of those Claire had screwed over….and in fact screwed, although he suspected the latter was not quite so select.

"You make an absolutely appalling taxi driver," René murmured as Olivier screeched to a grinding halt for the fifth time in as many inches, while trying to avoid arriving pedestrians with no concept of what a walkway was for. "What did I ever do to deserve this kindly intervention?"

"Lissa," Olivier said grimly, leaning on the horn.

"No," René said with what Olivier recognised was deliberate offensiveness, staring out of the side window at the man shouting and waving his fist at the car. "I didn't do Lissa. I have more sense of self-preservation. And I think you ran over that man's foot. Oh well, never mind, it's in a cast..."

"Handy, that…" Olivier agreed, and finally cleared the drive and pulled out onto the street, just as the first splats of rain began hitting his windscreen. "Do we need to stop anywhere before you go home? I'm sure you have food and things, if I know anything about Lis and Kitty."

He debated about warning René that since Isa was the one that had the locks changed, there might be just a few more keys floating around than he might imagine, and decided to add that to the list of horrible surprises he had in store.

"Like where?" René asked rather blankly, and then drew in his breath with a faint hiss that Olivier was sure had nothing to do with the road or the car. "Oh. Actually....I need to go to my office. To clear out my desk."

Olivier screeched to a halt in the middle of the bypass, ignoring the frantic horns and yelling from around him. "You fucking what?"

"Desk?" René said, looking decidedly worried. "You know, the thing I have at work that has my stuff in it? And on it, and - anyway, that thing. Desk." He stared at Olivier for a moment, and then groaned. "So I can move my things when I go back to work and transfer?"

"Transfer? Why the fuck would you transfer? If anyone transfers it should be that fucking bitch, not you." Olivier was appalled at the idea. "You hate change. Why would you even consider…?"

A tractor-trailer pulled around them, complete with cursing driver, but Olivier still didn't move.

"Olivier, I don't want to die today," René said with glacial and irritable calm, "so would you kindly get this car and your arse in gear and move? And I may hate change, but I also hate your wife – actually, not so much hate your wife as loathe my partner - and I would rather move than endure the endless weeks of her refusing to do so. Now will you please turn the damn key in the ignition and get us out of here?"

Olivier started the car and headed it on down the road, his face, he was quite sure, currently matching the ominous, thunder-filled clouds overhead. There had to be some way to get Claire to move, rather than René, but he didn't know what cards he had to play in this game. He did not even know where Claire was at the moment. She'd come back to the house, and removed anything small and portable that was of any value, including some things that she'd had no right to take. Olivier didn't really care. It was as if after loving her and obsessing over her for so long, he was now just a void empty of anything save do-not-care. As a matter of fact, the few sharp words that he'd directed to René mere moments ago had been the first that he'd expressed with any kind of emotion since he'd left the hospital himself.

"There's more than one office in Paris, you know," René pointed out after a few minutes' silence. "No, don't put the brakes on again! A transfer's not the same thing as it would be for you, it's not like having to move right out of the Sûreté. It just means a different Prefect. And no, of course it's not the epitome of all that's excellent and bright, but it's better than changing jobs. I'll be working on my own, for a start, which suits me better. And there's a case..." he stopped with a faint snort of disgust. "Yes, well, there's always a case. There's a case which requires solo work. And long-term planning. I might have wanted it anyway..."

He offered up a little shrug. It was amazing how what was patently true could somehow sound like outright lying, even when presented with pained and slightly drugged transparency.

"How can you be so calm about it?" Olivier growled at him. He himself had taken more than one transfer at Claire's instance, had even changed his specialisation in order to move up through the ranks at an accelerated rate, leaving behind friends and comfort, but that, somehow, seemed different even in retrospect – not because her motives had been any purer, but because his had been, in a way René's could not possibly be. His own actions, however similar, however easy to regard in the same light of surrender and argued against accordingly, had been for love, had been to make his wife happy, had even been because he had believed her when she said he deserved to be in a field where he could earn promotion more quickly - and none of it had ever bothered him. But this… God, scruples aside he should have bloody strangled the bitch, it would have made things so much easier for all concerned.

"Would you rather I drove?" René snapped at him, oblivious to his convoluted thought processes and his anger. "Then I could annoy every other driver on the road instead of accepting things as they are. Presumably that would make you feel better."

Olivier turned his head enough to blink at him. Somehow he tended to forget that what would seem impossibly frustrating to someone else, something to be worked through and considered and possibly discussed with those who would contribute differing opinions was, to René, just another minor obstacle to be incorporated into his life. As always, he was left uncertain as to whether it was terrifying or just intimidating in its through professionalism. How could anyone live like that?

Of course, René probably thought the same about him. It was a miserably sobering thought.

"No," he said, his bad temper ebbing away and leaving the uncaring dullness behind it again. "It wouldn't."

"Oh really," René said with an impressive display of sarcasm. "Good. Thank you. Because I really needed your stamp of approval on my decisions to make me feel that there was a point to them. Of course I did. I can't think of a single other reason I make them, so thank you for validating my existence."

Apparently his annoyance had not so much drained out of him as made a direct transfer to his passenger. It was almost entertaining.

"Well, in any case, I think your desk can wait one more day. Lissa said I was to take you straight home and since I'm on her bad list anyway, I believe this is one direction I had better take." He pulled off the bypass and moved onto the road that led to René's home. "I'll have time to take you tomorrow if you still feel it's imperative."

"I don't need you to take me anywhere," René said snappishly. "I'll get a taxi –"

"Oh, you can get a taxi as well," Olivier said, starting to enjoy himself.

"I what?"

"I'll drop you off on my way to work, and you can get a taxi back..."

"No, you are not coming over to collect me and then –"

"No, I'm not," Olivier agreed, turning off the main road and onto the little tree-lined avenue.

"What?" René said again, sounding hopelessly confused.

"I'm moving in," Olivier said with patent glee. Yes. This was a vengeance that he could and would willingly wreak.


"To your house."


"It'll make everything so much easier..." God, this was almost illegal, watching René's horror and relishing the undisguised emotion.

"No – what – no, no, it won't – you –"

"And better than Isa's couch."

"I –"

"Thanks, René," Olivier said sweetly, and pressed the remote for the garage door.

"Oh. Dear. God."

"Very generous offer," Olivier concluded, and drove into the garage, ignoring the fact that his passenger had bent over double with his head in his hands. "I can't thank you enough."

René just gave him a look of pure disbelief, rolling his head to the side and glaring his misery at Olivier through slitted eyes.

The dead inside of Olivier gave a little happy kick. This was something worthwhile, this tormenting of René. Isa would probably scold him and call it vengeance, but he recognized it for what it was - need. He needed René to keep him on his toes, to call him on it when he was deluding himself, and René needed Olivier, for some reason that was as incomprehensible as the other side of that needing, to forcibly anchor him in this world rather than let him remain isolated in the bleak interior landscape of his own detached and organised life. A new, more thought-out partnership in place of the dissolving attempt at their own warped trio juncta in uno - something better, if more uncertain in its future, to replace the odd quasi-friendship that had revolved around Claire's solipsistic glow – or maybe just a new kind of devil's bargain.

Whatever it was, it had somehow been struck.


The living room was utter chaos although it was, to Olivier's mind, organized chaos. He had papers and photos laid out on the floor in a row so he could look at them all at once and move them around as ideas struck him. The coffee table was also piled up with files and reports and half-finished forms, his laptop screensaver blinking out the time in varying shades of green and blue while the small printer on the floor flashed its ready light in an irritating orange. His coat and tie were tossed haphazardly over the end of the sofa, and a cold cup of tea sat waiting, along with an unlit cigarette.

He glanced fretfully at the clock. Would René be home at a reasonable time? Or, as had happened far too frequently, in Olivier's opinion, would the still recovering agent be detained over something that only he could handle.

What it really boiled down to, if he was honest, was should he clean up his mess now, or continue working with the chance of making René cringe and twitch? Of course, René at his twitchiest was fairly entertaining in a snarky way… so it was really a win/win situation.

One of the things that was oddly endearing about René's – Olivier had to admit – usually justified complaints was that they never included how he managed his work. If he wanted to make abstract art templates out of pictures of corpses and stick them on the high ceiling so that he could get a different angle and try to work out what the macabre artist imitator was aiming for, while lying on the floor and chain-smoking, René didn't so much as flicker a sardonic eyelid. On the other hand, leaving the dishwasher full of dirty dishes for two days while Olivier gathered enough filthy crockery to justify running it could provoke a ten-minute diatribe on why they were not employed as chemists, not were ever, as long as René had any say in it, going to be.

The sound of the key in the door made Olivier give the room a quick glance over to make sure that he had cultivated enough mess to make René twitch about it and feel that due to its being centred in the middle of Olivier's filing system, he couldn't touch it.

He thought he was probably on the right track when René put his head around the door and made a sound like a dying antelope.

Olivier merely grunted in return then rearranged the order of a picture and a report, casually sticking a pink Post-it note on the top of the page and then staring blankly at it, before reaching back and picking up his unlit cigarette and sticking it in his mouth.

"Does any of this –" said René, gesturing a bit wildly while still standing in the doorway, any progress he might want to make prevented by the sea of papers covering the floor, "actually help? I just want to know because otherwise I could write a truly fascinating article on tidal drift with regard to man-created landmass."

Olivier blinked at him. "What?"

"Never mind," René said with a sigh, and left him to it. In the spirit of generosity with regard to making life difficult, Olivier got up and followed him.

"You know," Olivier rumbled as they reached the door to René's room, "for someone who is supposed to be 'recovering' they certainly have you working long hours."

He ignored the irritated look on René's face and preceded him into the room, crossing to the bathroom and getting the bottle of pain pills and a glass of water. "You left these here so I'm sure you need one. Have you eaten?"

Really, mother hen was not his usual style, but René was so negligent of some things that it was almost unavoidable. Plus, fuck, who the hell else did he have to fuss over?

"Yes, mother," René said dryly, confirming his fears. "And later I'll brush my teeth and wash my face. Or is it the other way around?"

"What, brush your face and wash your teeth?"

"No, the other way –" René sighed. "You know exactly what I mean. Why do you like driving me insane quite so much?"

"It's good for you," Olivier said with a grin, as he followed René back towards the kitchen. "Like sea kelp."

"Yes, you and sea kelp, that makes perfect sense," René agreed, rolling his eyes. "My fridge is full of old takeaway. Why is it full of old takeaway when there wasn't any in it this morning?"

"I brought it from work," Olivier explained obligingly.

"How generous."

"Yes." Olivier nodded, "And Connie sent you some…. God, something with tofu and aubergine. Lasagne maybe? Looks worse than the takeaway, but it doesn't smell too horrific."

He held out the pill bottle again, shaking it, "Pills…then food."

"Olivier..." René's look of irritation had been upped to a glare. It was almost beautiful in its predictability.

He rattled the pills again in response, keeping it up until René snatched them out of his hand.

"Right. Fine. Pills. Now get those atrocities out of my fridge before I shove them up your....nose."

"You don't like tofu?" Olivier asked. "Connie will be so disappointed..."

"No, I don't like tofu," René said around the large horse-pills that were apparently keeping him alive in some mysterious way. "Why the fuck would anyone think I liked tofu?" He took out a beer from the fridge and chased the pills down with a swig of it, his expression daring Olivier to make any sort of comment.

"Because it's nice and bland and tasteless and neutral, and you should love it dearly," Olivier said sweetly.

He really should have expected the pill bottle that came flying at his head, "Ow."

René's somewhat gleeful expression was almost worth his pain.

"Well then… no tofu or takeaway. What would you like for dinner? Because you're supposed to eat with those tablets…really."

"Oh am I...really?" René repeated exasperatedly. "Go something papery, Olivier, I'm quite capable of making my own sandwich."

"But you might want to have a conversation," Olivier said, ignoring the choking sound that statement caused, "and then what would you do?"

"Talk to myself as the only sane person around?" René suggested.

"But what if I want a sandwich too…or something...? " He opened the refrigerator door and started removing the takeaway cartons, carrying them to the trash bin. Connie's lasagne, he moved to one side - midnight snack or possibly breakfast. "Oh… you have messages on the machine I think. It was blinking anyway."

There was a thumping sound behind him – presumably René's head making contact with the counter top, as he said from a strangely mid-level area –

"You do live here, you know. Why do they have to be my messages?"

"Because if they're my messages," Olivier said pointedly, "I'm not going to want them."

"So I'm acting as your secretarial service?" René said incredulously, but the thumping noise had stopped. Olivier turned round and glared at him.

"Filter. And you know it. You're better at not shouting at people."

"Olivier, Genghis Khan was better at –" René took a deep breath, and let it out very slowly. "I'll just go and check the messages, shall I?" he asked with poisonous sweetness.

"Yes." Olivier waved the breadknife at him. "And only tell me if it's useful."

Useful, yes, like if Claire had actually fucked off and died, like he told her lawyer to do the last time they'd spoken. Half of everything, that's what that cheating, lying bitch wanted. Christ, most of what she was asking for had been his before they'd married. Wasn't it enough that she'd messed him up so bad that he still wanted her, longed for her, every damn night? He ached with it, damn it, and he and his right hand were becoming far too friendly for his self-esteem or his peace of mind.

"Argh," René said, like a hopelessly, frustratedly depressed pirate, and kindly shut the kitchen door behind him as he went to listen to the messages, beer in hand – and leaving Olivier to wonder if perhaps not knowing and being entirely dependent on someone else's rather frayed good nature was in fact the better option.

He supposed that at least from René's point of view, it was less destructive to property. René took his anger out on the shooting range or in retreating to the piano that, it had turned out, he could actually play, and producing jazz discordant enough to even make Olivier wince through his muffling semi tone-deafness. Olivier, on the other hand, tended to go through René's good glassware, which had got him locked out of every room except his bedroom. Having only been allowed unsupervised access to the rest of the house a week previously, he wasn't precisely anxious to restart his peculiar exile.

Theirs was an uneasy peace. Once Olivier had settled in and René had gotten over his initial shock at having his privacy invaded by the man whose estranged wife had almost gotten him killed… had in fact tried to set Olivier up to finish the job for reasons that still escaped him, in fact – they had settled into a sort of friendly avoidance for a few days. By the time that René was up and recovering from the worst of his injuries, and the bruises on Olivier's face had mellowed into a sickly yellow, they were both snapping at each other like two territorial dogs, with René only having the slight advantage of home ground.

Olivier had been incredibly close, during the locked-door fiasco, of taking every damn lock out with the first gun to hand, and it had only been a call on his mobile from an incredulous Henri Bonacieux that had distracted him.

"Did you know that your new housemate is a financial wizard?" he had demanded, more animated than Olivier had ever known him. "Give me signatory permission right now, Olivier, because looking at what he's just mailed me, you can have almost every single monetary asset you possess tied up into stocks and shares that no-one can touch because they're too busy earning money. Who the hell plays the stock market in their spare time for fun?"

Olivier, standing in a hallway that was more reminiscent of Bluebeard's castle than ever, with all its locked doors confronting him accusingly, had burst out laughing.

It had been a very grounding moment. It reminded him of exactly why he'd liked René in the first place, of why, even though nothing was the way he thought his life would be at that moment, he was dealing with everything and not going completely insane. Between Isa and René, and 'his girls' - Lissa, Connie and Kitty, who would no doubt resent it vocally and lengthily if they ever found out that was how he thought of them, and find interesting and painful ways of reprisal for it, too - he was hanging on. Some days it was barely and just by his fingertips, but he was doing it.

"Letter bombs," René said dreamily, opening the kitchen door and interrupting his self-congratulatory thoughts just before they hit the peak and sent him back down on the descent towards depression again. He sometimes suspected René actually knew what his timing accomplished, it was so unnervingly accurate so very often. "Such an old-fashioned yet effective method of response."

On the other hand, Oliver somewhat belatedly realised, it was entirely possible that no-one else was hanging on to any sort of sanity at all, any more.


Kitty's home was rather like Kitty herself, relaxed and comfortable with a very eclectic style that was, somehow, both up-to-date enough to give you some surprises, but traditional enough to make you relax. It was a house of books and light and a 'killer sound system'. A small bronze replica of Rodin's "The Kiss" was backed by a print of Andy Warhol's soup cans. The lines of the furniture were all clean and neat, but in spite of their simple functionality everything was very comfortable.

It was a relief to be there for Team Night. Another night spent with Olivier, whose moods were now flashing between manic teasing snark and depressive broodiness that would make Heathcliff proud, and René might just have tried to hurry along his demise by locking him in the cellar to starve.

Unfortunately, since all his canned food as well as his own stock of wine, what Olivier had determinedly salvaged from his own house, and a fair stock of firewood was also in the cellar, he had a fair idea that it wouldn't be so much starvation as added chaos that no-one would ever want to clean up. Olivier had as much sense of neatness as a blind bear just woken up from hibernation, and while René was just about tolerating it in his papery death of a living-room, he saw no reason to add it to the lower levels of his house. His life might have been increasingly built on sand, but he was damned if his actual home was going to end up resting on the Olivier-created equivalent of a bomb site.

"Lissa, ow," he said irritably as she poked at his side for the tenth time. "That would hurt even if I'd borrowed Iron Man's suit for the day, I swear to God - what, Isa?"

"You made a pop culture reference," Isa said gleefully.

"We're watching the film," René pointed out with a groan. "I can't actually forget what's happening right in front of me, can I?" He would have quite liked to try, but that was another matter entirely. One more CGI explosion and he was going to find a way to program the whole system onto permanent mute.

"Have you been taking your antibiotics?" Lissa asked before plopping down next to him and trying to lift his shirt to look at the scarring wound site. "Olivier! Has René been taking his antibiotics?"

"Stop that!" René slapped at her hands. "And yes, I have, thanks to the medication police you set on me."

"I want to see the scar," Isa said with a faint pout, before Lissa could start one of her lectures on proper care and procedure and how they were all bloody useless at it and René more than most and how if things turned gangrenous and rotted it wouldn't be her responsibility. "Do you know, he wouldn't let me look at it even in the hospital? And that was even after the drain came out. You're such a prude, René..." He trailed off with a dramatic sigh.

René, immune to blandishments, pouting, and innuendo alike, batted Lissa off again and stared Isa down. "Have you put this weird fetish of yours in your psych folder?" he asked menacingly. "Or would you like me to hack your records?"

"You wouldn't." Isa blinked, under the misapprehension that he looked cute and appealing. "You're not that mean."

Olivier rejoined the real world, and snorted. "Er, yeah, Isa, he really is..."

"Thank you." René crossed his arms, carefully hiding his injury and assuring that Lissa could not lift his shirttail again without actually tearing it. "And here I thought you were completely immune to the effects of my evil personality."

"Not immune." Olivier's lips twitched in amusement, "but since I'm just as evil we counteract each other."

"No, that's multiple evil, not counteracting evil," Isa said, sounding a bit helpless. "Trust me on this. Serious multiple evil – hey, does that mean you've seen his scar?"

"Scars," Olivier corrected him, "and I'm not feeding your fetish, Isa."

"I do not have a – why are you picking on me?" Isa whined.

"Because it's so easy?" Connie said sweetly from her pile of pillows on the floor. She looked, even to René's jaundiced and irritable eye, like a posed supermodel, her long bare legs, a testament to the unseasonable warmth of the early autumn weather, bent up and crossed at the ankles behind her. One day, he was going to understand firstly how de Treville could possibly have spawned her, and secondly what the hell she saw in Henri Bonacieux, but he had a feeling, as she grinned over her shoulder at an increasingly frustrated Isa, that today was not going to bring his official moment of comprehension.

"I don't have a fetish," Lissa reached up and put one hand on René's forehead, checking for fever and brushing a stray lock of hair back from his face, "this is my job. And since I'm sure you'd have to practically be hog-tied to come in for a regular check-up, I'm trying to take care of it now. I'd have Isa sit on you if I thought it would help… but really, I prefer him alive and unbruised."

"Lissa –" René didn't like being fussed over by anyone, and particularly not by someone who actually cared, being twenty times more comfortable with the uncompromising hands and rough-edged tongue of his new Interior doctor. He sighed. "I get checkups. I'm not allowed to work, otherwise..."

"Yes, and you lie through your back teeth to them, and Olivier wouldn't notice until you were three days dead," Lissa said with surprising sharpness.

"Just in time for the annual resurrection," Olivier pointed out. "Don't worry, Lazarus, I won't put you in a cave..."

"See?" René said, trying not to laugh. "Every care and consideration."

Lissa leant forward and thumped her head onto Isa's shoulder with a groan. "Why am I bothering?" she almost wailed into his t-shirt. Isa shrugged, a little wide-eyed.

"Why the fuck are you asking me?" he demanded with unhelpful if transparent honesty. "I like living, remember?"

"Man! I want one of those!" Kitty who was sitting on the floor and using Olivier for a backrest, suddenly pointed at the screen. "Buy me one?"

She peered back and batted her eyes comically at Olivier.

"You want an iron suit?"

"Nah… just the guy in it. He's smart. He's rich. He likes things that go fast. He's perfect!"

"But I'm all those things," Olivier said with mock-offence, and René was so relieved to hear something that was semi-normal coming from him that he didn't register the small sting of awareness that one day Olivier would be flirting and mean it until it was too late to keep the effect of that little mental jab from his expression. Isa, who was looking at him, winced a bit, and René glared down at him, as Kitty said –

"Yeah, okay, let me revise that list – he's smart, he's rich, he likes things that go fast, and he's not you, so yes! Perfect!"

"Also, he's older," Connie pointed out. "I think. Isn't he? I mean, he might not look it, but I'm pretty sure..."

"Ow, my ego..."

"No, he's definitely older," Lissa agreed. "Which is another plus."

"My ego," Isa said, clapping a hand over his abdomen. "Owwww."

"Your ego's in your stomach?" Lissa turned her head and looked at him, trying not to laugh as he scowled down at her. "That explains so much..."

"Exactly! It's unfed and malnourished!"

Olivier gave a huff of amusement, "You can have the man, Kitty. I want the computer. I want it installed in my office right now and have it booby trapped so that if Isa touches it, he gets electrocuted…or blown up… or something painful but non-lethal."

"You want a talking, snarky, British computer?" Lissa demanded. "Olivier, you really need to get back out there and start dating."

"No," Olivier said, looking horrified, "I really, really, really don't."

Connie sat up, looking worried. "Um....Lissa? Aren't rebounds supposed to be incredibly bad for everyone?"

"Yes, which is why we need to get him lots before he finds someone we like," Lissa said with a grand sweep of logic that left everyone silent with a kind of universal, if differently based, mental flailing.

Oh God, René thought. I'm not ready.

"Lissa..." Olivier said helplessly, "I'm not ready..."

"Fuck that, I'm not ready," Isa said in a kind of strangled groan. "Sweetie, I have to work with him. Please no?"

"Yes, and wouldn't it all be nicer if he weren't so....frustrated?" Lissa said.

"Yes," said Connie and Kitty in desperate unison.

"But..." Olivier tried again.

"I've got the first number here, Julie. She's a lovely girl. Teaches yoga." Lissa carried on, and picked up Olivier's mobile, programming it in. "There. Now call."


"You can do it later," Lissa said with a flip of her hand, "but I'll know if you don't."

"Oh God."

Isa and René looked at each other in mutual horror.

"Fuck," Isa muttered.

"Yes, darling." Lissa patted his arm. "That's the point."


If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow.
- Rachel Carson


Lissa had been right. Julie was a lovely girl. She had long chestnut hair, and long, long legs to match. Her smile was bright and vivacious and she laughed at all of his attempts at humour. Olivier had fine hopes for the end of the evening before they ever reached the restaurant.

He had taken her to Antonio's, a favourite of his both for its excellent cellar and the variety and quality of its menu. That, apparently, had been his first mistake.

"Oh, my gosh." Julie had exclaimed when she viewed the menu. "I don't know what I'm going to eat. All this food is so heavy sounding and … do you know how much fat is in lasagne? Even vegetarian lasagne? Can you ask the waiter if the chef can make me something off the menu? Fresh steamed vegetables and brown rice, preferably. That's much healthier."

Olivier, who was suddenly assailed with thoughts of Claire, starving herself all day in order to be able to do half the menu the justice it deserved, who would order extra olives in her martini because she claimed they tasted better after thorough saturation and roll up the little bites of antipasto with her long fingers as though they were cigarette papers, winced and gestured the waiter over.

Smart, rich, likes things that go fast...God, Kitty, if only things were that easy.

"And just tap water. Honestly, there's no difference between that and bottled. And it's so much better for the environment."

Olivier looked longingly at the wine list and the expectant sommelier, and sighed. Dear God. The things he was prepared to do to avoid calluses on his right hand simply didn't bear thinking about.

If he was very lucky, Antonio, the chef and owner, might just possibly take pity on him and not forever ban him from the restaurant for the insult. He was just about to excuse himself and sneak back to the kitchen to beg forgiveness when his cell phone rang.

"I'm very sorry. I need to take this. Sûreté you know…" Olivier was relieved at Julie's nod. That, at least, she understood.

"Hello? What?" Olivier frowned at his mobile. "How the fuck did you get this number? I told you that you'd either have to contact my lawyer or Bonacieux. No, I will not-- What? Look you tell that God damn bitch, that ring belonged to my mother and….. What the fuck-ever. "

He slammed the cover closed and flung the device down on the table top in disgust.

Julie blinked at him. "Um, bad break-up?" she ventured, not unkindly. She looked slightly amused, damn her, as though his display of temper were something to be gently put aside and ignored, as though he were a three-year-old deprived of a toy temporarily.

"Divorce," Olivier said, trying to get his voice under control. Under that gently censorious look, he felt everything to be more pointless than ever.

"Well, that's why marriage isn't a good idea," Julie said in the same faintly patronising tones, and Olivier just stared at her.


"Partnership," Julie said. "You can't have equality in a marriage, it just makes sure both of you are submitting to the patriarchy."


Julie sighed, and then said in a kindly and forbearing voice, "Like the word wife."

Olivier opened his mouth, and shut it again in a hurry, terrified of what might escape him.

They ate their vegetables and rice and drank their tap water while Julie continued her spontaneous exposition on the position of the woman under the thumb of the patriarchal male partner - which apparently was not missionary. He ordered chocolate cheesecake with raspberry sauce for dessert - to go - and drove her home.

Neither one of them mentioned the possibility of a second date.

He would have given anything at all for Isa's kindly, undemanding sympathy as he got to the house and let himself in, and knowing that instead he would be faced with either an empty house or René at his barbed best did nothing to settle his temper at all.

He felt anger, irrational and misdirected, rising in him again as he closed the door behind him and found himself automatically setting the alarms.

"Jesus Christ, is there anyone who can't train me like a fucking rescue dog?" he demanded of the silent hallway.

René's startled face appeared over the landing railings, oddly inverted from where Olivier stood and his thin-framed glasses sliding down his nose as he peered into the hallway at Olivier. "Good God," he said after a moment. "What happened to you?"

"I am never going on a date with a yoga – yoga whatever the fuck a yoga person does again!"

"Okay..." René said cautiously, coming down the stairs and pausing at the bottom, obviously ready to start running if Olivier started throwing things. "Any particular reason?"

"Aside from the fact that I think she hates men and only considers them a necessary evil, useful only for the propagation of the species? Nothing…" He flopped down at the foot of the stairs. "I brought home chocolate cheesecake… from Antonio's. Do you want some?"

René sat down beside him, took the box and flipped it open. They both looked in some disgust at the gory mess the raspberry sauce had made of the inside as the dessert slid about in its container while Olivier drove home.

"It looks like something died," René said at last. "In an explosion."

"Claire's demanding my mother's ring," Olivier said in response.

They both looked at the horrific cheesecake in silence.

"And that inspired a diatribe on patriarchy?" René said at last.

"No, the fact I had a wife –" Olivier broke off and stared at him. "How the fuck did you know that?"

"Yoga instructor, considers men only useful for the propagation of the species, and you don't smell of Italian cooking at all," René said absently. "I'm extrapolating. Also, if you think that's bad coming from a pretty girl, you should try it coming from a sexy bloke, because I swear to God, if you want your head to look like that cheesecake, it's a superb way of going about it."

Olivier grunted and pulled a plastic fork out of his pocket, scooping up a bite of the demolished desert, "Still tastes pretty good, although it's not my favourite. I just picked the first thing I could think of that was horridly fattening. Damn, the girl was pretty but so thin… would have been like fucking a bloody scarecrow."

He wondered how long it would be before even a scarecrow would seem sexy to him.

"Yes, thank you so much for sharing that," René said, pulling his glasses off and rubbing at the bridge of his nose. "Scarecrows aside, how the hell did Claire get your number?"

"Didn't," Olivier said around a mouthful of cheesecake, enjoying the way René winced and looked away from the sight. "Lawyer did."

"And called you now?" René sounded reassuringly annoyed. It was somehow good to know that, patriarchy aside, he had been in the right about his reaction to the phone call.

"Yeah." He shrugged. "Suppose it's his job..."

"Yes," René said, his voice tight. "I could ensure that it isn't any more quite easily."

"And then the whole thing would drag on even longer with someone else, so no," Olivier said hurriedly, wondering why he always had to be the voice of reason when it came to these things. Between Isa's penchant for making people's lives hell on any pretext and René's love of hacking into everyone's personal details, he was sometimes amazed that he hadn't ended up in prison just by association.

"You were right though," Olivier continued, "the lawyer was all fucking full of legalese, but what it amounts to is that Claire wants half of everything… or actually more than half. So thank you and thank God for Henri Bonacieux." Olivier gave a little chocolate-muffled snort. "Now that's something I never thought I'd hear myself say."

He had some good friends and surely that had to mean something. If even someone as evil and… what was it that Kitty had called him the other day?…broodmeister? A drama-llama? Actually, she'd called him both, then hugged him and handed him a cup of coffee and a triple-chocolate homemade cookie the size of his face. Neither had been particularly useful, but he'd appreciated the sentiment...

"I'm not sure whether I should be insulted by my inclusion in the same sentence as Henri Bonacieux or flattered that you think as highly of me as you do of his efforts on your behalf," René said dryly, proof, if the glasses and rubbing at his nose hadn't been enough, that he was out on his feet with exhaustion. Most people got curter and more concise when they were tired – René turned into a Restoration play, the only thing lacking in his speech patterns a few antique curses to make the effect complete.

"Both?" Olivier suggested.

"Yes, I'm insultingly flattered," René agreed quickly, and stretched his arms above his head, cracking his neck. "God. Give me liberty or give me death, I don't much care, but please stop Interpol from thinking that the day starts at four in the morning sometime soon before I run amok with a machete and sever every phone line in Paris."

Olivier closed the lid on the cheesecake and sat it down on the step, "Here… turn…. You're as wound up as a mainspring."

He scooted up a step higher and started massaging René's shoulders. He'd done this for Claire so many times. She'd get so keyed up that her muscles would turn into rocky knots that only concerted effort could release.

"Olivier," René said in a voice that sounded tighter wound than a clock in the second before its inner workings snapped, "this is very thoughtful of you, and I would be incredibly obliged if you stopped."

Olivier froze, carefully lifting his hands away. There was something in René's voice that didn't permit teasing him out of whatever this was, or ignoring it. "Okay," he said slowly. "I've stopped. What, you've got a touch aversion going tonight or something?" He winced at his crassness, but had no other idea of how to phrase it.

René hissed out breath audibly, and his head dropped. "No, not – Olivier, tell me, just how much would you appreciate a massage from Kitty right this second?"

"I – huh?"

"Just think about it."

Olivier did. Then he very quietly damned himself for being several kinds of idiot. If Kitty had volunteered to rub his shoulders right that second, she would have his body responding in several ways that were nothing to do with her and completely inappropriate and entirely unrelaxing all at once.

"Sorry," he said quickly. "Really. That was –"

"Incredibly bloody thoughtless, yes," René agreed, but he looked around with a smile. "Just try and remember that I'm not actually dead from the waist down as a general rule, and it'll be fine."

"Sorry…" Oliver said then fell back, sprawling against the steps. "God… I need to get laid. WE need to get laid. And sorry again…." He covered his face with his hands. "And this means that Lissa will have someone else lined up for me on Friday and I'll have to do it all over again. I'm not that charming… there's a definite limit on my charm and I think this is it. No more charm left."

René choked, spluttered for a second, then gave up and laughed. "Don't flatter yourself," he said at last. "You never had any at all to use up!"

"Then how do you suggest I go about it?" Olivier demanded in exasperation.

"You're asking me? Better hope she's deaf and dumb, as far as I can tell..."

"Fine," Olivier said grumpily. "Just fine. But I'll tell you something, René. If I've got to go through all this stupid pantomime just for the sake of giving my hand a break, then so do you." He grinned at René's expression of horror, and said – "Every time Lissa sets me up, you have to get a date of your own. Or I'll tell her I'm not going because of you."

"You wouldn't." René sounded just like Isa. "Olivier, you wouldn't."

"Oh yeah."

"You couldn't be that cruel..."

Olivier nodded slowly, and René flopped back on the stairs beside him, one hand flung dramatically over his eyes.

"Kill me now..."

"Uh-uh." Olivier rolled his head slowly from side to side. "I want to wait until Friday. I want to hear you beg."

René just moaned.


Isa had been, he knew, a more than decent psychologist. The fact that he had been assigned to work in a prison in his first year of real employment had been his own choice in part and guided by the dictates of his specialised fields for the rest – and it had left him with an unparalleled loathing of the system which could lock people up for years and then entitle them to a medical care that quite often their victims had to pay for to receive. He had joined the Sûreté more out of a need to atone for what he saw as his own private addition to those crimes than anything else, worrying away at a guilt that even Lissa had been unable to assuage with all her commonsense lack of bullshit.

And none of this, apparently, not his experience, not his training, not his own private motivation, made him any damn use as a profiler whatsoever.

"Fuck's sake," he muttered, shoving yet another file across René's dining table, "I sound like a nineties textbook. White, educated, middle-class, heading for middle-age, keeps himself in good condition, probably mid-forties because we know he vanished for ten years...what bloody use is any of it when he's still out there framing portraits?"

"It might not be now, Isa… but it will be. The man's not perfect. Sooner or later something will slip through and give us more information….or we'll have a brilliant flash of insight and match something up from this… mess." Olivier waved a hand over the demolished room and its movable feast of information. "God… it's almost as bad as Sofia's apartment…. And thank Lissa for that one, will you? Forcefully."

Isa couldn't really find much humour to spare, even for Olivier's dating woes, but his lips still twitched into a smile quite involuntarily. Sofia was one of the candidates Lissa had truly disliked, thinking Olivier would be a wonderful way to vent her annoyance by proxy. As it had turned out, Sofia had also had an incredible kink for candle wax and yells of pain, and had provided enough of one to ensure Olivier had given her the other. The apartment should, it seemed, have been Olivier's first clue as to how disastrous sex with her would be, as nothing bar a bomb or a burglary with menaces could have otherwise explained its state.

"And then," Olivier finished up, starting to grin despite himself, "do I get back to sympathy and alcohol and a friendly ear? No I fucking well don't, I get back to howls of laughter and 'you asked for it, I got some teenager who'd lied about his age to the dating agency and who kept forgetting his fake name!' Seriously, Isa, how did that mean I deserved Sofia?"

Isa, who knew damn well that the only reason René was dating at all was because he would walk over broken glass if Olivier asked it of him, kept a silence born of sheer self-preservation.

"René and I are both doomed to eternal celibacy… I swear…" Olivier stood up and stretched. "Coffee? I've finally figured out how to work René's Duotronic Computerized Coffee Master thingy and maybe some caffeine will spark my brain."

"Olivier, how does Sofia equate to celibacy?" Isa demanded in horrified fascination. "And yes, I want coffee, of course I want coffee..." He'd like it even better if the owner of the machine, who knew how to make it produce substances that didn't resemble either tar or soup, were there to operate it, but he knew better than to say that to Olivier, however equable his mood seemed. He was starting to think that René was not only in love with Olivier, but had gained a sort of saintly patience along with the softer emotion.

"Because I am never touching her…ever again…" Olivier shuddered. "Not even with your dick. Seriously, that is one amazingly disturbing woman."

Olivier pulled coffee filters and coffee out of the cabinet and approached the coffee maker with an attitude that reminded Isa of a lion tamer. It was like he thought if he snuck up on it, he'd trick it into producing coffee.

"Right, and seeing as I don't really want you to touch her with my dick either," Isa said agreeably, "I'm pretty glad that's not my only option of sex, because seriously, no." He yelped and jumped backwards as the coffee machine hissed a virulent little spurt of steam at him. "Christ. Even the coffee-maker's on a hair-trigger!"

Olivier stared at it. "I think I pressed something wrong..." he said, as the whole thing started to shake, steam coughing out of it in scalding little geysers.

"No, really?" Isa widened his eyes.

"Fuck," Olivier cursed and yanked the plug out of the socket. "Nothing in this place has the slightest bit of sympathy for me. God, I miss being home!"

Olivier grabbed the coffee maker, and Isa thought for a moment that he was going to throw it across the room, but apparently the heat deterred him.

"Damn, Isa. Sorry I'm such a miserable old … well, I can't say fucker because that'd be a lie…."

Isa screwed his face up. "No, really, keep apologising," he said quickly as Olivier trailed off. "'Specially for all the constant woe-I-am-not-having-sex talk, because you're making me associate you with sex, and that's scary and horrible and just actually wrong. So stop before you make me join the celibacy club and I have to kill you, okay?"

"Right." Olivier stepped carefully away from the coffee-maker, scowling at it. "I just...I wish I could just hate her. Just straightforward hate. No confusion. When I had my hands round her throat..."

"- And I so didn't hear you say that..."

"No, seriously. I – that was better. It was better because it didn't hurt. And now –"

"Olivier, it didn't hurt because you were incapable of anything but having a concussion," Isa said with a patience he was a long way from feeling.

"So how come René can hate her?" Olivier demanded furiously. "How come he gets to hate her and I don't have that luxury? Huh? Tell me, Isa, because I really want to know how that's fair!"

I am not trained for this, Isa thought. No-one is trained for this. No-one in the known world is trained to be Olivier's friend and his shrink and his confessor all in one go. It's fucking impossible.

"What," he asked cautiously but with a sudden flash of inspiration, "does René say?"

Olivier flashed a startled look at him. "Are you two practising clairvoyancy or something?" he demanded. "What makes you think I've asked?"

You just told me, Isa thought, trying not to laugh, and settled for raising his eyebrows and smirking. "Your congenital inability to shut the fuck up?" he suggested.

"Yeah." Olivier rubbed at the back of his head, looking embarrassed. "He said the next time I took a bullet for someone who'd just made him feel like a rapist and then got set up by that same person to be killed by the first friend I'd had in years, I'd probably feel free to hate as well."

"Wow." Isa tried. He really tried. The laughter bubbled up out of him anyway. "Er. Sorry you asked?"

Olivier nodded, his face reddening. "Makes me seem a bit..."

"Like a whining arse? Oh yeah," Isa agreed gleefully. Damn, he owed René a drink for that one.

"I loved her, Isa. You know I did. And she… God, I don't know any more. Maybe it was a farce from the beginning and all she ever wanted from me was money and sex…" Olivier sighed and slowly slid down the side of the cabinet to sit on the floor.

"Oh God… are you there again? Really, Olivier, aren't you even tired of hearing yourself?" René's snarky voice preceded him into the kitchen. "And what, might I ask, have you done to my coffee machine?"

"It tried to kill me." Olivier protested. "No, really. It was spraying steam and….shaking and… I think it's possessed."

Now that's more like Olivier, Isa thought. Snark at him and he answers you back with complete rubbish.

"Yes, yes, the coffee machine hates you, Isa hates you, I hate you, the world hates you, get up off my floor before I prove it by kicking you to death," René said, utterly deadpan. He plugged in the coffee machine again, which gave a little hiccup and settled down to slowly making coffee. "Yes, I can see. Perfectly homicidal."

"That's because it only wants to kill me," Olivier pointed out, but he did get up off the floor.

"I don't blame it. I've been home less than a minute and I want to kill you," René said, only the faintest narrowing of his eyes betraying that he wasn't serious. "Hand over your service weapon, Isa, I'm going to do the world and coffee-makers everywhere a favour..."

"You think I want to fill out that paperwork?" Isa shook his head. "You want him dead, use your own weapon."

"See?" Olivier threw his hands up. "No sympathy…not even a shred. Oh… and we're out of cream and also I put your mail on your desk."

Isa blinked at the sudden change of subject.

"Which I've told you forty thousand times not to do unless you want me to start setting nice little heat-seeking bombs there for you to find when you touch it, and we're out of cream because we never use it and it turns into a weird mould specimen," René said without missing a beat. "Why were you sitting by the rivers of Babylon weeping over Zion again?"

I think I want to go home, Isa thought a bit madly. Now. Or wake up.

"Fuck off," said Olivier automatically. "And die. In a fire."

"Right," René agreed. "Shall I take your files with me, as a help to the process of self-immolation?"

"No!" Isa yelped involuntarily. René grinned at him.

"Hi, Isa," he said around a laugh. "Sorry. It's a kind of mantra, I think. Olivier can't function without performing secretarial tasks and then telling the world –"

"I do not!"

"- and I seem to have been cast in the role of the world," René continued imperturbably.

"Or maybe you could just take a nap… on the bypass…during rush hour." Olivier said it with a dreamy expression on his face. "Or, shit… Pour me some coffee , Isa, and we'll get back to work."

"Sure. Right. Coffee. Work." Isa looked from Olivier to René and back. "Because of course, we were doing so much more than just staring at all the bits and praying for inspired brilliance."

"Really?" René asked with spurious interest. "What was that?"

"Staring at all the bits, praying for inspired brilliance, and working up the nerve to use the coffee-maker," Isa said honestly.

"We've reached an impasse." Olivier mumbled as he ran a hand over his face. "We are beyond a stalemate and heading swiftly towards gridlock of the brain."

"And that." Isa agreed wholeheartedly.

René looked between them much as Isa had been doing to him and Olivier moments earlier. "So that's what gridlock of the brain looks like," he murmured. "I always wondered."

"Not helping," Olivier muttered.

"Yes, I'm actually not trying, surprisingly enough," René said a bit irritably. "I've put up with your macabre posters for weeks, and I'm getting sick of them for completely different reasons to human revulsion. If you're waiting for a breakthrough on who did that, you'll find yourself working cold cases with Kitty and still not have got anywhere."

"Yeah, thanks," Olivier said bitterly. "Encouragement, thy name is René d'Herblay."

"Yes it is," René said sweetly. "Instead of worrying over who it could be like a dog with a rotting bone, maybe you could try focusing on how."

"Eh?" Isa stared at him. "We can fucking well see how, thanks so much!"

"Not how they were killed," René said exasperatedly, "how they were arranged into their pretty little tableaus. Because correct me if I'm wrong, but that took time. And uninterrupted time in not terribly secluded areas of a city is not something that's in great supply. So why aren't you looking for how someone found that time and how the hell they knew they had it to work in?"

"Heh…" Olivier gave a little huffy squeak of sound. "We know he's a planner. But did he know the area would be free when he wanted it… or did he do something to ensure that it would be? "

Olivier headed back to their organized chaos. "So who would know these areas would be vacant for those times… directly - someone on the inside? Or is it just someone who studied the system and all the comings and goings from the outside."

"I wouldn't know," René said serenely. He smiled at them rather nastily. "That's your job. I'm going to bed."

"You can't!" Isa almost yelled, and grabbed his arm. "Seriously, René. You can't, we need you to break into public records and find out if things got shut down or schedules changed or –" He gave René his best pleading look.

"Oh God," René said with a sigh. "Fine. This once. Just because it's better than listening to Olivier moan through the floorboards while I'm trying to sleep...."

"Balls," Olivier said. "You just want an excuse to break into the various council archives."

René's mouth curled up into a smile. "Well. That too," he agreed. "Passwords..."

"Olivier?" Isa said slowly, not letting go of René's arm.


"Does this count as not-an-epiphany?"

Olivier grinned at him. "Definitely," he said. "Definitely not an epiphany in any way."

René laughed, still trying to free his arm from Isa's grip. "Absolutely," he said. "Just call me Prometheus..."

"Then bring your fire and your arse in here and start hacking, O Mighty Titan," Olivier commanded. "Isa… you check to see if any of our suspects or witnesses has a background in civil service. I'm going to check for new rentals in the areas in question, just in case he did all his work from surveillance."

"And of course no-one could think of any of this without me," René said with an ostentatious eye-roll as Olivier headed out of the kitchen.

"Pretty much no," Isa agreed honestly, and as René, taken aback, blinked at him, he pulled him in and kissed him as sloppily as he could. "Anyone ever told you you're a good man, super-spook?"

"No," René said primly. "And I'd thank you never to do it again, if that's your way of telling me. It's horrendously wet and you kiss like a dying fish."

But he gave Isa a little, awkward, one-armed hug before he followed Olivier out of the room, and Isa grinned to himself.

"Yeah," he said. "But I'm fucking brilliant at smashing down walls..."


Despite Isa's encomium, René was fairly convinced, by the time autumn became definite and the trees started to lose their bright leaves, that he was neither a good man not a particularly good agent. He knew that his latest case was a testament to the faith the Interior had in him, knew that if it had been anyone else who had been working on it, he would have automatically assessed them as being among the best, but somehow he could not equate that assessment with how he felt.

He might have been the one to help devise the persona of Hans Keller, but the more he delved into the man's character, the more he despised him – and despised himself for understanding the man so very perfectly.

Keller was immoral, grasping, hedonistic, and had tendencies to sadism that revolted René even as he knew they were essential. He liked young girls and he liked to corrupt them, he liked to be the one with power over minds rather than bodies, he liked to seduce with his mind and reap the results.

And the dates he had agreed to go on were not helping in the slightest, traces of Keller creeping in to the most superficial of social contacts as he grew more immersed in what he would need to be by the time the new year came around.

But he knew that Olivier needed his, the way that René did not. And also, that the man was stubborn enough that he'd give them up if René backed off on his own. They were at an impasse, a stalemate of the stalest kind.

So far they had been through Danielle, Chloe, Maritza, (Olivier), Francois, Michel, Albert, (René) and Claude (both of them, and if they didn't talk about that particular disaster ever again, it would be too soon). That was four apiece and none of them even close to being anything they wanted for more than a moment. René didn't know if that spoke more about his current temperament or Olivier's…or those they had dated.

"Can I just bow out to an Honourable Mention before I end up on the Died Of Wounds list?" he asked pathetically one Thursday evening. "Seriously, Olivier, I don't think I can stand another evening of politely making small talk and pretending I work in an office."

"You do work in an office," Olivier said. "No. You need to get out more even if you never do anything about it."

René sighed. "I don't think I do if it means Claude," he said with a fair amount of malice. Claude was, despite his loathing and habitual avoidance of all mention of her, his trump card, a very beautiful and successful cross-dresser who had convinced Olivier she was male and in all ways perfect for René. René had agreed with him right up until he noticed a curve to Claude's long neck that would have been devastating to a straight man and was a source of complete blinking and offensive surprise to him.

"Look, she had a really deep voice..."

"Yes, she did," René grumbled. He had not been impressed at having to revise his initial impression of a temporary fix into a not-at-all-ever evening.

"And she liked all the things you do - utter Shakespeare fanatic, check, sharp dresser, check, amusing, witty - everything." Olivier pointed out, almost desperately.

"She did indeed." René responded. "But the imperative word there is she did."

"Yeah," Olivier sighed. "And that's a complete no go then, is it?"

"The completest."

"I mean, she liked you..." Olivier was trying his best to be coaxing. The effect was in fact that of making René want to kick him in the head rather than capitulate.

"Olivier, there's some part of gay that's really not getting through to you, isn't there?" he asked with a sigh.

"But if the Kinsey scale means none of us are completely straight, then doesn't that mean –"



"Fuck the Kinsey scale, fuck that idea, and fuck you for suggesting it," René said crisply. "I could suggest a dozen young men who would be the perfect date for you and definitely provide the end to the evening you're so desperately looking for. I don't, because I was brought up to be polite. Now I accept you were raised by wolves, but for God's sake..."

"I could date a bloke!" Olivier said in blatant defiance of the strangulatingly obvious. René thumped his head on the table.

"Yeah, great. You could date him. Briefly. And then we could add 'evening ends with both parties in prison and facing charges of GBH' to your list of disasters, couldn't we?"

"I'm not as strait-laced as all that," Olivier muttered to the refrigerator as he opened the door and pulled out a beer. "I think I'm going about this all wrong. Too much pressure. I'll tell Lissa to leave it alone for a while and just see what I can manage on my own. It can't possibly be any worse."

He turned and looked at René, "Can it?"

"Yes," René said honestly. "Much, much worse. Because left to your own devices I actually shudder to think who you'd consider ideal, first date or otherwise." He looked pointedly at Olivier, who took a deep interest in getting the top off his beer bottle. Olivier's last attempt to choose on his own behalf had been Claire, his last attempt to choose for René had been Claude, and his judgement was definitely in question.

"I'm not looking for a substitute..." he muttered at the bottle of Kronenbourg.

"No," René said, getting up from the table and deciding that one more minute of going around in circles while avoiding the topic of Claire, and he was going to follow through on his original wishful little thought and kick Olivier, "I know. You're looking for a replica. And I just want to point out how relieved we all are that you haven't found one. Look, why don't you...."

"Why don't I?" Olivier repeated dangerously.

"I don't know, go on Lissa's dates and just try and have a good time without thinking about sex?" René suggested, with hopeless hope. Olivier snorted. "Yeah, okay, I know, stupid thought, but...haven't you got enough to worry about at work and with the lawyers without adding a kind of dating make-your-own-pizza to it?" It was the best he had to offer. He knew that his own current state of mind was thoroughly inconducive to any kind of sexual urge, but he knew that there was no reason whatsoever why Olivier should share in it or even have any interest in how he was dealing with it. Olivier was in love with an entirely different kind of unobtainable to René, but he was, on the other hand, more fortunate as well, in that at least he didn't have to live with it or try and sort its life out on a regular basis.

"Yeah… maybe." Olivier stared at the bottle for several long minutes before he continued. "Can I tell you something… honestly?"

No! René wanted to shout out. Please don't!

Instead he said, "Of course."

"I have other reasons for wanting to back off." Olivier took a deep drink of the beer, then looked at René. "The way I've been feeling lately, I'm not even sure I…. could… you know?"

René, with enormous effort, kept himself from flinching. Isa's ability to overshare was legendary and therefore bearable. Olivier's allowance of even a minor weakness was equally painful to listen to, and far less bearable in the end result, and as such deserved at least a hearing out – even if it was the last discussion on God's green earth René ever wanted to have.

"Oh," he said rather blankly. "Perhaps because you're overthinking it? After all, it hasn't really...look, why the dating at all? Why not just pick someone up in a club or a bar? If that's what you're after," he added hurriedly.

"Like you do?"

There was, fortunately, no spite to Olivier's question, or René would simply have walked out. As it was, he pressed his thumb into the palm of his hand, and shrugged a little.

"Not now I don't," he said ungrammatically if truthfully, "but...yes."

"Yeah. Maybe you're right." Olivier nodded gravely. "Look…do you want to go get some dinner? I didn't have time to stop on the way home and if I spend another evening staring at my files I really will be insane. "

René stared at him blankly for several moments.

"My treat…"

Hans Keller, somewhere in René's head, was laughing at both of them with complete despite. René, willpower sapped in every direction, just manufactured a smile, and nodded.

"All right," he said amiably.

He couldn't help thinking that it was all very well for Olivier, who could leave his files, if not his thought process, behind on the dining room table. He carried Keller with him wherever he went. And Keller was starting to take over in a way no collection of reports and photographs would ever manage.

There was no chance for him to separate his personal and his working life. They had become one and the same a long time since, and no kindly-meant attempt at an intervention, not from Olivier, not from anyone, could stop the process he had willingly entered into.

Hans Keller, sadist and purveyor of underage prostitution, was coming into his own. And René was being submerged in his overwhelming personality.


"Goddamnfuckalltohell!" Olivier raged stomping from one end of the room to the other, then pulled back and punched the door frame. Fortunately for the house the frame only gave a small shudder and showed no sign of bending or breaking. Not so fortunately, Olivier's hand was not quite as strong. "Shit! Shit! Shit!"

He clutched his injured hand against his chest, "Shit! I hate that fucking bitch!"

More threatening phone calls from Claire's lawyer about hiding his money. He didn't pretend to know, let alone understand, what Henri had done (on René's advice) with any of his funds. All he knew was that, apparently, it was making Claire and by extension Claire's lawyers, very unhappy. That should have been enough to make him happy, except for the fact that, because they couldn't get to the funds, they were now trying for the physical assets - his house, his car, the boat he had bought because Claire had thought sailing was glamorous and seldom used because she soon discovered that you couldn't be even remotely glamorous with your head hanging over the railing. She was even claiming that the small house in Broceliande had been a 'personal gift' when his family had owned it for over two hundred years.

He supposed that the last could be argued against, being as he had never formally given Claire anything that could be shown in court – even a symbolic key or a copy of the deeds – as proof either of his intent or her acceptance. But he knew that had he thought of it, he would have, that his intent had been present even if he had never shown it in any tangible way, and for some reason, it felt like cheating to deny it.

Henri, he thought, was probably going to be very upset. After all his efforts to help, it was going to come as a blow to the efficient little man if Olivier lost as much as he had rescued by virtue of a mental sophistry he found impossible to overcome.

The sophistry, though, was very much there, and very much impossible, and even while most of him acknowledged that it was stupid as hell, he also wondered whether, if he overrode it, he would be able to live with himself or ever want to visit the house again, knowing that he had lied in some indefinable way in order to keep it.

It was best then, he suddenly decided, not to let it come to that. If he could just leave it to his own lawyer, he might be able to never be placed in that position. His lawyer would know what they could legally claim, whatever his own ethics told him he 'meant' or 'felt'. Emotions had little to do with law, he knew, or there'd be a lot more idiots behind bars.

In the meantime, his now throbbing hand drew him out to the kitchen. He didn't think he'd broken anything, so maybe just a good soak in some ice water would keep it from swelling up like a balloon and revealing his own stupidity.

It occurred to him that even two weeks previously, he could have relied on his housemate to, however acerbically and irritably, show some kind of helpful and practical sympathy to his situation and offered up a commentary on stupidity and real ethical behaviour that would have distracted him both from the pain in his hand and his own tendency towards idiotic self-immolation. But René was preparing to go undercover – though who and what as he refused to divulge or even hint at – and he was utterly devoid of anything these days but a kind of grim and distant involvement with everyone that frequently tipped over into unpleasantness.

It was bad enough that no-one was complaining about his absences, or even remarking on them, perhaps in case like mentioning the devil, they caused him to appear.

Olivier pulled a large bowl out of the cupboard and filled it with water and ice, plunging his now noticeably swollen hand into it, "Christ!"

Well, at least he knew it was cold enough to do some good. And if tonight his date, Klara (he winced at the name, far too close for comfort), noticed it, he'd just claim it happened on duty…or something. Some women liked to do the whole hurt and comfort routine and he was just in the mood to soak some of it up.

In terms of women to spend a night or two with, his life had improved considerably since he had informed Lissa that he would rather make his own mistakes – but in terms of finding out more about his own lack of any perceptible character virtues than he had ever really want to, his self-knowledge had also improved at the same ratio, and he was learning self-disgust along with a realisation that his initial assessment of not being ready for this had been horribly accurate.

And René, to whom he had got used to confessing such things, had made it clear that he had neither the time nor the patience to listen any more.

Klara though, at least might have the advantage of understanding what he was going through in the fact that she was also going through a messy divorce….so if worse came to worse they'd at least have someone to sit around and brood with. At this point, Olivier wasn't sure if that wasn't really more than he wanted or deserved.

He lifted his hand out of the water and inspected it. It already looked perceptibly less swollen, although the knuckles were beginning to turn a lovely shade of blackish-purple.

His blue suit tonight, he decided with a snort. Then at least he wouldn't clash. He wanted this date to actually go well, to make a good impression rather than to be quite so obvious as usual that he was only after one thing. Not that any of his recent partners had minded that – quite the obvious, he seemed to be the kind of man no-one wanted to see again anyway – but he was starting to mind. He wanted to give Klara the impression that he was someone who was completely different from her ex-husband, someone with a bit more substance to him and a bit more point to his existence.

Of course, if she felt about men the way he had started to feel about women, he stood no chance of getting anything except a list of his shortcomings, but he supposed since she had agreed to meet him, anything was worth a try.

There was a jangling ring and he grabbed a towel so he didn't drip all over the slates on his way to the phone, "Hello? Oh, yeah, Isa…what? Bloody hell. Let me get my shoes on and I'll swing by and pick you up."

That was the end of his thoughts about dating, or Claire, or lawyers. Their killer had struck again, leaving another tableau for them to decipher.

By the time they got there, Isa complaining all the way about Olivier's smoking and the chill of the wind with the car windows down, leaving Olivier to threaten him with the lit cigarette, Gervaise Dufay was fuming as much as the ashtray – but not at them.

"Is it," he asked, "entirely too much to ask the citizens of this wonderful city to notice when a double bed is put right in the centre of Montmartre?"

Olivier was fairly sure he was gaping. "What?" Isa said from beside him. "A what, now?"

Dufay pointed across the street. On the corner was, indeed, a double bed, quilt neatly pulled up over it so that only the tops of two dark heads could be seen.

"I know that painting," Olivier said suddenly. Toulouse-Lautrec's Le Lit, one of his rarely gentle, intimate works. He'd had a girlfriend in college who owned a poster of it, and thought, briefly, about trying to buy her the original. Then he'd met Claire, who preferred Matisse, and damn, he had to find out if any of his art was still his or whether he had to give that over as well...

"Yes, de la Fère, you and most of blind Paris know that painting, I know that painting, that's not helpful."

"I don't," Isa said with his usual unconcern for what anyone thought of him.

"It's Toulouse-Lautrec," Dufay said patiently.

"I thought he painted can-can dancers and was a dwarf," Isa said.

Dufay opened and closed his mouth a few times, then ran his hand over his face with a groan. "Also," he admitted. "Not in this case."

"He is dead, right?" Isa continued a bit worriedly. "Only he would kind of fit the profile –"

"Apart from the dwarf bit," Olivier interjected, helping with the unhelpfulness. "You said this wasn't someone who felt isolated from society...."

"Well maybe he only fits in with ordinary non-judgemental society or people who aren't you two!" Dufay snapped with the first show of temper they'd ever seen from him.

"Or that." Olivier smiled sweetly at him, then carefully moved, his eyes sweeping the scene. Both of the figures in the bed looked amazingly peaceful, their faces elevated and turned toward each other. He looked down at the edges of the bed, the long quilt almost but not quite hiding the wheels underneath. "Looks like it was rolled here… maybe off the back of a truck. Probably already perfectly arranged. It would take less time that way. Do we have an estimated time of death yet?"

"Some time this morning," said their pathologist Carina Saitou, looking oddly angelic in her white suit with the hood pushed back and framing her small face. Named after a brand of rapidly unpopular car rather than any sort of endearment, she made even an autopsy a kind of artistic tour-de-force that everyone in the Sûreté was both awed by and feared in equal measure. It didn't help that, despite being well into her late forties, or so Olivier had heard, she looked young enough to still be at school – only in Carina's case, it was more the Gogo Yubari kind of schoolgirl, complete with meteor hammer, that came to mind. "And no, I'm not getting any more precise, we don't know yet whether they were kept in cold storage or in a warm room or in a van, so that's all for now."

Olivier nodded slightly and turned to Dufay. He knew he had probably already drawn his own conclusions, had his own ideas and wanted to hear if Olivier's matched them. That was only good police work, different people had different outlooks. "I guess we could check for truck rentals. Find out the style of the bed and the mattress and see if we have any records of them being purchased recently. "

"Good," Dufay nodded. "Du Vallon?"

"Well, just off-hand, nothing here contradicts our prior conclusions. Unless he has an accomplice or accomplices, he'd still be someone who is in shape, have a decent education, blah, blah, blah… and oh!" Isa leaned over the bed and carefully indicated the spot, "Unless that blew there… he's a blond."

Olivier and Dufay both looked where he pointed and sure enough, lying on the coverlet was a strand of blonde hair and since both of the victims had dark hair, it wasn't theirs.

"Right," said Carina briskly. "That means – actually it always meant, but thanks for the help, honestly, you're all too kind – that this is my bed, and you all get to go play in traffic for the next few hours while I let my team do their jobs."

"Do we even know who they were?" Olivier asked. While he wasn't really averse to going and playing in traffic, or at least going on his date with Klara if no-one needed him for anything for a bit, he was somehow happier at the thought of being given something to do that didn't make him feel like a complete waste of space.

"IDs on them like always," Carina said, handing over the little clear bag. "You know, whoever this man is, he's good."

They all stared at her, but she didn't even look vaguely embarrassed at her statement. "He's got these paintings spot on, right down to judging the victims' hair and shape. I know this painting doesn't show much, but he's got it absolutely perfect." She beckoned them over to the laptop, where a large blown up copy of Le Lit was on display. "Look. He even rouged the face of the one on the left a little, darkened and lengthened her eyebrow."

"He's choosing the paintings before he chooses the victims," Isa said slowly. "It doesn't matter who they are, it matters whether they fit the painting he's chosen..."

"Totally random killings," Olivier cursed. Those were the hardest to solve because of the lack of motive. Unless they figured out the pattern of choice they had nothing. "Fuck."

"Right," said Carina. "Great insight, Olivier, thanks for stating the obvious, Isa, why don't you both go away and study art for a bit and try and find us a link?" She turned to Dufay. "Gervaise, I need to get this covered so I can work before anything gets moved, I don't think we 're going to keep people believing this really is part of an art installation for very long, what with you blocking off the street and everything..."

Dufay nodded, and started to walk away, talking into his phone as he went.

"Sir?" Olivier called after him.

"You heard the lady," Dufay said with a faint grin. "Go study art, gentlemen."

"Christ, don't tell me he's developing a personality, my heart won't stand it," Isa muttered. "Come on, then..."

"What, we're going to study art now?" Olivier demanded.

"No, we're going to take a list of the paintings to someone who did study art," Isa said with an eye-roll. "Why re-invent the wheel when someone's already made several for you?"



It was seven o'clock the next morning when Olivier finally made it back home. He'd missed his date entirely, but Klara had sounded fairly understanding when he'd called her to explain. So much so that he'd made a second call and had roses delivered to her as a nicer apology. Silly, maybe, but it was so little to create a bit of understanding with someone he wanted to know better.

"Honey, I'm home…" He muttered as he crossed the threshold and locked the door behind him. He had no idea of René was even there. Most likely not, if the last few days had been any indication. Olivier had never realized just how much…intensity…someone might have to invest in going, believably undercover. He'd only Claire to judge from before, and now that he had watched René so subsume himself inside his character, he knew that much of what she lived, their life together, had only been one more under-cover assignment to her. One that she lived and breathed to keep him at her side and wanting her.

There was no answer, not even an irritated head poking over the banister, and Olivier couldn't decide if he was glad or not. Mostly not, he decided, as he wanted to at least run through the ideas the fin-de-siècle expert Isa had unearthed from the dusty depths of a Louvre archive with someone who understood academic jargon. He knew René didn't have much interest in anything that came after 1500, but at least there was a chance he'd understand more of the phrasing than Olivier did.

With a faint sigh, he wandered into the living room, and nearly jumped out of his skin, his heart racing and his hand on his gun as he registered the presence in one of the leather armchairs. Inimical blue eyes looked back at him from the early morning shadows, and Olivier realised that he was looking at Hans Keller, finally made complete, like some terrible cyborg of the imagination brought to life.

"Fuck, René," he said, his heart thumping uncomfortably and making his voice stutter a little. "You nearly scared me to death." He took his hand away from his gun.

"I'm scaring myself to death," René said after a pause just long enough to be very uncomfortable indeed and make Olivier start to question his judgement as to who really was sitting there. He leant forward into the shaft of sunlight, and rubbed his hands over his face and up over his head, dislodging a lock of his too-long, sleeked back hair that was starting to resemble a particularly horrible cut from the early nineties. Olivier was fairly sure he was bleaching the ends to make them deader-looking.

"So," Olivier finally said, just to break the growing tension. The figure in front of him was René, but completely not in a very real way. Cold and hard and… fuck… sleazy was the closest that Olivier's brain could come to explain the feeling that was coming over him. It was as if René… no… as if Hans could see every secret that Olivier might cherish, see them and know how to exploit them for his own gain. It was a very uneasy feeling. "…you'll be leaving pretty soon then?"

"Leaving here, yes," René said, and his mouth twisted in a little wry smile that was very much not Keller and was an incredible relief. "I have to set up things to look as though I arrive from my own base of operations." He got to his feet and cracked his neck with a faint wince. "I do not," he said with some force, "like the inside of Mr. Keller's head."

"I don't like the outside of his head," Olivier said honestly, and was rewarded with a faint hiss of laughter.

"I don't believe I gave in so much as to let you know his name," René said, and the little smile was becoming more and more the real thing.

"Yeah, well, it was either that or I'd think you'd got yourself another housemate – a really dodgy one I was going to have to shoot, so you pretty much had to, really," Olivier pointed out.

They were silent for several more moments, but this time was slightly more comfortable.

Finally René took a deep breath, walking over to the large French windows and opening them to the morning air. The faint sound of birdsong drifted in on the chill breeze. "I should be completely gone soon. Just a few more things to clear up, a few more arrangements - Olivier?"

"Hmmmm? Yes?" Olivier shook his head as if to clear it. Even the way René moved was different, less… fussy but more… tense, as if the least wrong move would set him off. Olivier caught his hand twitching upwards towards his holster, but covered the slip by reaching up and scratching his ear.

"My lawyer has all my paperwork," René continued. "I don't have any family to speak of but if something happens to me there are small… bequests for Isa, Lissa and –" he looked faintly embarrassed, political correctness too firmly ingrained in René, even now, to be completely comfortable with the name they had mockingly chosen for themselves when their inclusion in Isa and Olivier's group of friends was questioned – "the girls. I want you to make sure they take them, alright?"

"They won't need to, René." Olivier's jaw was instantly tight. "We'll have you back before you know it."

René's little breath of laughter was more incredulity than amusement, this time, and he didn't turn around from the window, his hand resting on the white-painted frame. "But you," he said, not unkindly, "won't have anything to do with it. And I won't leave before this is done. I feel as though...this has been the whole point of my life, that one good thing, one good thing can come out of everything I've had to be and do. I've just found...or maybe Keller found it for me, I don't know any more – I've found I can't pretend there aren't any ties, not this time. It's not going to be as simple for everyone else as it would have been a year ago. And whether I think it might be better if things hadn't changed or not doesn't mean that they haven't."

"If anything – I'm not going to know anything unless you're dead, am I?" Olivier asked in slow realisation. This was different to anything he had needed to think about before. Even when René was a nebulous theory and not a steadfast, irritating, peculiar friend of a fact, Olivier had to some degree trusted in his very existence to be the thing that stood between Claire and harm. But René was going into this alone, nothing between him and whatever he wanted so very badly to face but Keller's frightening persona, and Olivier worried that it might not be enough.

"Probably not," René agreed, and when he turned around, he was oddly solemn. "But my contact is de Winter at the Interpol offices here in France – no, shut up, you aren't bloody supposed to know this, so shut up – and he knows what to do if anything goes wrong that isn't...fatal."

Unspoken was the addition that if it was fatal, it was fairly irrelevant when and how Olivier found out anyway.

"And he'll let me…us know?" Olivier asked. He felt disconnected somehow, as if he were sending a brother off to war back in some ancient part of history where there were no mobile phones and no computers. A place where news travelled with excruciating slowness and often was only learned of through word of mouth. He hated it. "Yeah… I know the drill - as long as it doesn't threaten the case."

"Right," René didn't look particularly happy about it either. "Look, de Winter's not a fool, and he's not a bad man. He's just...a bit methodical. And he doesn't really come across as very – er – sympathetic." His expression suggested that was the understatement of the decade.

"And let me guess, he's met very little of you and quite a lot of Keller?" Olivier deduced.

"Yes, that about sums it up," René agreed. "He helped make Keller, but I think he hates him more than anyone else alive."



Olivier was suddenly very curious about what else those mysterious 'papers' contained. Oh, not any interest in bequests or money or that type of thing… but who René had listed as 'next-of-kin' or 'responsible party' if something should happen to him. He had changed his own recently, removing Claire's name and adding Isa and René. Did René feel comfortable enough with him…with them…to have done the same? Or would that be left up to some unfeeling bureaucrat who only knew that René had always gotten the job done, but not how much it had often killed him inside.

It was something that Olivier had just begun to realize himself and it made him wonder if that had been part of what killed things between him and Claire. She'd become dead inside and could only react to the superficial pleasures.

"Olivier –" René's face was twisted up as though he had just bitten into a lemon pickled in salt. "I'm not her. Yes, yes, I know, I'm stating the bleeding obvious here, but for God's sake don't start equating what I am with what the Interior made of Claire. She had to change to survive. I changed before I ever – look, actually, can we have this conversation another time when I'm not mostly consistent of utter perverted bastard, please? It's giving me a headache being this honest." He had the grace to look apologetic, but he obviously meant it. It seemed unkind to push.

"Sorry." Olivier frowned for a moment. "Am I really that transparent?"

"Only about Claire." René gave a little shrug then walked over to the cabinet to poor himself something.

Scotch, Olivier noted absently, a single malt that must be what Keller drank because it wasn't René's usual drink of choice.

"Great," he muttered to himself. He was finding out more about Keller than he had ever bothered to really try to with René, mostly because René was so damned private that everything seemed like a gross intrusion, and Keller's every action was hand-crafted by René – and, apparently, de Winter – for an audience. And Keller drank at seven in the morning. Maybe Keller felt as though it were the equivalent to everyone else's midnight.

Maybe Keller was actually a non-revenant form of a vampire, and maybe Olivier really needed some fucking sleep before his brain fell out and oozed all over the floorboards.

"I have a date," he blurted out. René turned around and gave him a long hard look that had nothing of Hans Keller in it and a great deal indeed of generic 'dear God, shut up you stupid bastard'-type irritation. "No, I mean. I got myself a date."

René's eyebrows went even higher. "Yes?" he said at last.

"With a girl," Olivier rubbed his hand over his face. "Well, yeah, of course a…woman. She works in a bookstore - that one that's just down the street from my lawyer's office. She's nice. Smart, you know? And…"

His voice trailed off. He was tired and should be heading upstairs to sleep, but he was also so keyed up that he knew he wouldn't relax. "Anyway, we were supposed to go out last night but I got tied up with this case again."

"Wow," René said, and blinked. "So when you said you had a date, what you actually meant was you didn't go on a date. Can I use that as an excuse, too?"

Olivier gave a tired laugh, "No…no excuse. We rescheduled for next week. I sent her flowers." Although with the luck he'd had lately she was probably allergic. "What happened with… um…Sasha, was it?"

"I don't think Keller should be allowed to go on dates," was all René replied, which was both incredibly oblique and yet managed to answer everything all at once. Olivier winced.

"Why, what's he like?"

"Straight," René said a bit desperately, and then his mouth twitched up in a slanted, uncontrollable grin, and he started to laugh. "And homophobic."

"Christ." Olivier couldn't help it. He didn't know if it was René's words or just his lack of sleep that made everything seem so hilarious, but he joined in the laughter, helplessly falling over on the sofa in a giggling heap. "Oh, God… we're both hopeless….Doomed to be the old bachelors down the street that everyone secretly thinks are helpless and tries to feed….like…like… two stray cats."

"Oh, you're just full of pleasant imagery, aren't you?" René asked, shaking his head. "Get up, you idiot, I've got no intention of entering permanent bachelorhood, even if it means the pleasure of your company while enduring it."

Olivier just wheezed. René scowled at him.

"Right, so that sentence could have done with some work –"

"- Thought," Olivier croaked out. His ribs were starting to hurt. "Thought would have been good –"

"- Yes. Yes, okay, thought, thought is an excellent thing..." René admitted. "Oh, shut up!"

"Sleep," Olivier giggled weakly. "I really need sleep. Take me up to bed and pour me into it… I'm too laughed out to walk."

And too weak especially to dodge the cushion that came flying at his stomach. "Ooof… thank you so much."

"You're very welcome," René's clipped voice answered back. "I have to leave. Get some sleep, Olivier."

"Don't think you could stop me," Olivier admitted, his eyes already closing. Then a stray moment of worry hit him, and he snapped them open again, surprising the oddest expression he had ever seen on René's face, gone before he could analyse it. "When you say leave..."

"I mean for work," René said dryly. "At which everyone will successfully and understandably avoid me. Now go. To. Sleep."

"Yes, mother…" Olivier chuckled softly, as he heard René exit through the door to the garage, activating the security system behind him.


Olivier did manage to make his date with Klara the next week. She was a nice girl, his first impression holding out through dinner and dancing afterwards. Unpretentious and smart and sad rather than bitter over the break up of her five year long marriage. Resigned to it, a little surprised by it. But not bitter. She saw the mistakes they both had made but where she'd been willing to work them out, her ex-husband had not and seemed to be doing his best to lump blame and tirades on her head with little to no provocation if her roommate, Stella, could be believed. And true or not, Klara had managed to inspire a fierce loyalty in her friend, which Olivier could only see as a good thing.

Their evening had gone quite well, and he had kissed her gently goodnight and left her on her doorstep with a promise to call later in the week. It was only after he had left that his brain began its furtive hamster turn of comparing her to Claire. And sadly, he was unsure which of the three of them came out the worse for the process – for by comparing, he was adding himself to the equation on each side.

Maybe I really am just not ready for this, Olivier thought to himself as he unlocked the door to René's house – months of residency still unable to convince him that he had any say in its ownership. At. All.

The house was its usual silent self – which was of no help at all to Olivier in working out whether or not it was occupied, since René had taken to practically imprisoning himself in his study when he was there, and on the rare occasions that he moved through the house, it was more than likely to be Keller, who walked like a ghost and had none of the attributes of a friendly household spirit.

It was in some ways becoming worse than living alone, and added to that was the knowledge that now more than ever, he couldn't bring anyone back – even if he had thought of the house as being in any way his to use for any social event without express permission, the idea of exposing the unwary to Keller and then having to explain that he did, in fact, live with the modern-day versions of Jekyll and Hyde was too much for him to even begin to contemplate.

And the thought of Klara, sweet little Klara, with her self-assured behaviour that had her kicking off her shoes under the dinner table and laughing at the mess the wind made of her hair, giving no thought to scurrying off to the ladies room to straighten it when they arrived, having to survive that… Well, no matter how he felt about her, and on what level, she didn't deserve it.

He was starting to think even he didn't deserve it, not with every flaw he possessed to the fore, and God knew they were more often than not these days. The divorce was dragging on interminably, leading him to think that perhaps they just wanted him to give up and hand what assets he had remaining over – but Bonacieux had pointed out that if he did that, they would go right back to the start with accusations of collusion from their attorneys, which, God, made no sense.

He just hoped Claire was suffering as much as him and getting as little satisfaction from his suffering as he was from the thought of hers. Nothing that took that long could possibly be the source of pleasure, however much hatred was involved, surely?

Some part of him, though, didn't believe it. Some part knew that Claire was out to make him suffer in any way possible unless, of course, he agreed to call the whole thing off and return to the status quo. God knew he still loved her, wanted her, and in some ways he was very tempted to step right back into that position. Then he remembered how damn unsure he felt all the time, how totally wrong, and he just couldn't.

He pulled off his jacket and his tie and draped them over the newel post at the foot of the stairs, then wandered into the kitchen. The restaurant that Klara had chosen was nice and the food delicious, but he was still hungry.

At least he knew the fridge and cupboard would still be stocked. René had pointed out some days ago that Hans Keller may have no regard for his continuing health, but he damn well did and would since he wanted to stay able to run away should the necessity arrive. Olivier had pointed out that it didn't hurt on the personal vanity side of things either, and got an incredibly jaundiced look from a man who had just re-bleached the ends of his hair to make it look as though he had roots, was yellowing his index finger by letting roll-up cigarettes smoke down to their ends in his hand, and had purchased contacts that made his eyes look greyly washed out.

"Yes," René had said sarcastically. "That's my main concern right now, obviously."

Olivier, looking in the fridge for something that wasn't carefully chosen with regard to nutritional balance or loaded with spices, snorted at a covered bowl of marinating peppers.

He finally found a carton of mu-shu chicken hidden in the back, left over from yesterday's on-the-go meal and popped the whole thing in the microwave. He grabbed a beer and hopped up on the counter, swinging his legs and drinking it while he waited for the timer. He looked down at his feet and kicked off his loafers, and watched with an odd amusement as they fell in perfect alignment onto the kitchen slates. It was good to be here, maniac housemate or not. Good to have a place to relax. And yes, good to not have to worry about Claire coming in and calling him 'common' or 'a slob' or any of the other things that meant he hadn't quite lived up to her perceptions. It was just good, all around.

He wondered, absently, why he was trying so hard to convince himself, and got his answer a couple of seconds later as René came into the kitchen, summoned like a cat by the sound of something food-related going on, and switched the light off as he came in, so that the only illumination in the room was provided by the humming microwave.

"What the fuck?" Olivier shouted, and reached out to put the light over the sink on instead.

"Off!" René yelled back at him, René who hardly ever yelled. "Off, off, off, turn that damn thing off before I take the bulb and shove it up your nostril!"

"Jesus Christ! Fine! Fine!" He slapped at the switch and managed to kill the light after the third try. "What is your problem?" Olivier slid down off the cabinet, almost tripping over his shoes as he made his way through the very dim light to where René was standing.

His cat analogy still held true, because René's whole pose (what he could see of it) reminded him of nothing so much as a cat who had been unexpectedly dunked in water and had just managed to pull himself free…with the possibility of a pack of dogs being the first thing he saw through still damp eyes. Olivier took a step backwards, not wanting to get scratched.

"My contacts," René said through evidently gritted teeth, "have taken an enormous dislike to my eyeballs."

With a heroic effort, Olivier didn't laugh. "Um....okay," he said. "Are they still in there?"

"No," René said, in the tones of one who was about to demand from the uncaring universe why everyone and especially Olivier was so unfailingly stupid, and then, with less superiority and whole lot more irritable misery, "but they damn well feel as though they are."

Okay, that really had to hurt. "Have you seen the eye doctor? Do you have anything? Drops or whatever?"

Olivier was clueless on this one. The only thing he could think of was for René to lie down and put a cold compress on his eyes, but he wasn't sure if that would help or not.

"Yes, yes, eyewash, and do I have to remind you again that you are not my mother?" René asked rather nastily. Olivier supposed he could be forgiven, under the circumstances.

"No," he said, caught between sympathy and laughter. For someone who hated being fussed over more than anyone else Olivier had ever met, including himself, René got into more than his fair share of the kind of situations that just begged for the sort of treatment usually dealt out to six-year-olds. "I won't even tell Lissa."

"Oh God, thank you," René said sincerely. What little Olivier could make out of his face screwed up in a painful wince. "I don't think I could really –"

"Yeah, no, which is why I won't." He was going to tell Isa, because this was the kind of thing too good not to be shared with someone who would so thoroughly appreciate it, but inflicting Lissa's efficient kindness on René seemed too unkind even for the man who had given the world Hans Keller.

The microwave, which had continued on its allotted cycle in spite of René's incipient blindness, chose that moment to beep its completion in loud and irritating tones. Olivier moved back over to rescue his food, once again tripping over his shoes.

"I was just getting something to eat," he explained needlessly. Even blinded, he was sure that René had recognized the sound of his own microwave.

"I thought you had dinner with – um – Klara?" René asked, and Olivier felt a wave of irritation swamp him at the way René had hesitated over her name. Was it really, honestly, so much to ask of the man that he remembered what the poor woman was called, when she was the first person with whom he'd felt any sort of connection in the whole line of dating fiascos he'd endured?

"I did," Olivier told him. "And I'm getting something to eat."

That was all the explanation he wanted to give. If his own odd feelings of ambivalence over his date, even with as much as he liked Klara, weren't bad enough, he didn't need any of René's commentary to go along with it. This was for him to work out, not for René's usual caustic wit to pick apart like some strange sort of 'date vivisection'.

"Right," René said in slow agreement. "I'm really not getting something here, but all right. Didn't it go well?"

"It went fine," Olivier said curtly, getting a fork out of the drawer and hating the fact that he could find everything in the kitchen without the need for any light at all. René and his damn organisation – it was too close to a barracks for any sort of comfort.

"Then why are you here?" René asked in what seemed like honest perplexity.

Olivier paused with a forkful of mu-shu half-way to his mouth, "Because I stay here? My clothes and things are upstairs, aren't they? Unless you threw them all out on the back lawn in some kind of odd cleaning fit. What do you mean, 'why am I here'?"

Christ! He wasn't that big a horn-dog…well, not usually anyway…and he had told René that he was going to take this more slowly because of – physical concerns. What more did the man want him to say?

"Because if you like her, and the date went well," René said slowly and carefully, "I rather thought you would have wanted the evening to continue. Which doesn't necessarily mean what you seem to think it means – and speaking of what things mean, what do you mean by 'some kind of odd cleaning fit'?"

"You're always cleaning." Olivier took a bite of the mu-shu, then made a face. It wasn't quite as good warmed over. "Sometimes I'm afraid that you'll sweep me right out the door with the dust or try to disinfect me when I walk in the door. Sometimes I think you'd prefer it if you could. And I don't even want to think about what would happen if I tried to bring someone else back with me."

"Well, yes, obviously, sometimes it would be absolutely sodding marvellous to disinfect you," René said waspishly, but there was no underlying current of humour to his voice. Olivier had touched a nerve there, and it gave him a nice sick sort of feeling akin to freedom, finding out that it was possible to provoke René out of acidity or Keller's nastiness and into some kind of human response that wasn't getting swallowed back out of some kind of misplaced attempt to cater to his moods. "And I've never tried to stop you bringing someone back."

"Not with words, no." Olivier conceded. "But with everything else, you bloody well have. I can only imagine you banging on the wall because we made too much noise, or blasting out the stereo to drown us out."

A small voice in the back of Olivier's head yelled that he was going too far, that this was René's house and he should be able to keep it however he pleased. That Olivier was only a guest, if a long-standing one, and didn't really have any say in how things were organized. And that he should be glad that René had put up with him for so long.

But he completely ignored it, "And of course, you'd have to send the mattress out to have it steam cleaned afterwards so that none of our bodily fluids could leave a mark."

René took a sharp little breath that was somehow louder than any shouting would have been, and Olivier had time to think - Christ, I'm about to find out how the other half of that damn partnership does bodily harm - before the light came on, and René was looking at him through swollen, bloodshot, watering eyes that Olivier could nonetheless tell were pained for more than one reason. He would have given anything to unsay the last words, but he couldn't, and somewhere inside him, along with the voice that was telling him to shut up now, was another, more deep-grounded one letting him know that he had to say it and he had to keep going, because it was true.

"Are you trying to get Keller to kill you?" René demanded, and oh God, that was the last thing Olivier had expected to hear and the first thing he should have thought of.

"No, nor you," he snapped back, still on the dizzy high of voicing the things he'd kept bottled up for the last few weeks, too far gone now to stop even if he'd wanted to try. "That'd be too easy for you. You could clean that up, tidy it away and still blame it all on Keller to square it up with your conscience as well, wouldn't that be a fucking neat way of dealing? And I don't want you to get easy, I want you to wake up and work out that anyone else and they'd have you bloody sectioned half the time, you – are – not normal, René, you're a damn freak and it's time you came to terms with the fact that's not Keller, it's you!"

Who the fist belonged to that suddenly impacted with his face did not matter. The mu-shu went in one direction and Olivier in the other, both of them sliding down the front of the cabinets on the way to the floor.

René grabbed a towel and flung it after him, whether for the mu-shu or the blood he could feel dripping from his nose was a moot point, "That, in case you were wondering, was from me."

"Great," Olivier muttered, choosing the towel for himself and pressing it to his face. He thought René might have broken his nose. He also thought he might have semi-deserved it. "I suppose you want me to clean up as well?"

He looked up to prove his point of not backing down, and found himself speaking to an empty room.

"Well, fuck you too," he grumbled to the towel.

You know, Claire had once said to him, I got told René had a temper. God knows how anyone worked that one out, but that was his reputation. I can't help thinking sometimes it would be quite fun to see it.

She'd been wrong. It wasn't fun at all. And it gave Olivier no satisfaction at all to discover that what Claire hadn't managed in years of trying, he'd achieved in ten heady seconds.

"I'm not fucking sorry," he growled at the empty, reproachful silence of the kitchen. "Someone had to say it. He deserved that and more."

Olivier sniffed back blood, and tried not to remember a quote he had once heard about people getting what was coming to them.

Give every man their deserts, and who shall 'scape whipping?

He threw the towel onto the floor, got to his feet, and set about trying to reset his nose. It hurt more than the initial blow had done, and somewhere in the back of his mind, he thought he might just deserve that too.

He left the kitchen exactly as it was, and went upstairs to look at the damage to his face. At least he could rely on coming down in the morning to find it all cleaned up.


René avoided Olivier in the days remaining before his departure with an assiduity that surprised even him. It wasn't that he was still angry, or afraid of what he might do or say – rather the contrary, as he was afraid of letting it show that he was desperate and close to apologising for his actions in order to provoke one from Olivier. He wanted to hear Olivier say that he hadn't meant anything said in the kitchen, that it had come from some frustration that had nothing to do with René or his behaviour – and he was horribly afraid that he would end up asking him for that reassurance, the part of him that wasn't being subsumed into Keller needing more than anything to be told that he wasn't, after all, a freak, that he didn't have anything wrong with him that would lead someone to question his place in the world, that he was nothing like that hard, angry assessment that had broken not his temper, but his heart.

He had thought he could live with not being loved in return – he had known he had to live with it, had known that despite his quick responses to Isa and Claire, it would be the hardest thing he had ever done, to stand Olivier's friend while he concealed everything he truly felt. He did feel friendship, of course he did, and that had been his bedrock, his fortress against Olivier's constant presence in his life. But he had thought that, at least, returned, and the knowledge that it wasn't, that no-one who said those things and meant them could possibly feel anything but a kind of cold despite for their target, was a blow he wasn't sure he was capable of recovering from.

So, it was avoidance, and he wasn't sure if he was sad or elated that Olivier made no extra attempt to track him down. Sad because then his fears were most probably, at least in part, completely founded in truth and elated because if Olivier had made that effort, had confronted him, nothing that would be said could possibly make him less confused than he already was. It was only preparation for his work, the total immersion in Keller that tore his mind from the turmoil that it had become.

It was a relief when, just before Christmas, de Winter told him that it was time to leave and start establishing himself in Estonia, that he could finally leave the depressing confusion of his life in Paris behind and live out the existence he had been so carefully preparing for.

He had never been in a position before where there was anyone to care where he was or what he was doing, let alone work out how not to tell them anything while leaving vague reassurances as to his well-being, and it was easier to convince himself, in the face of Olivier's continuing silence, that he had no need to worry this time, either, since when he went Olivier would know why, and if anyone else asked – or cared, after all the weeks of Keller's emergence – there would at least be someone to give the basics as an answer.

René calmly packed his bags, ordered his life as he usually would before he went undercover, except this time there was no need to stop the mail, or give direction to the lawn service, because Olivier was there and would see to everything. Or so he must assume. He was certain that even if Olivier left, he would make sure everything was taken care of, his sense of propriety would force at least that much.

He wondered if Olivier would still be there when he returned and if he actually wanted him to be. It would certainly be simpler if he were gone, his life would fall back into its old patterns with no ripples to show that anything had ever been different. Suddenly though, that idea held less and less appeal. Even if Olivier were gone, he'd miss Kitty and Connie and Lissa. Hell, he'd even miss Isa, with his bluntness and slobbery kisses and massive hugs that somehow did not make him feel like he was being suffocated, in spite of his complaints.

He could not help but feel that he had lost all that, not through Keller, but simply by being unable to change who he was, incapable of overcoming his need for privacy and order and comparative solitude. He was certain, somehow, that what Olivier had said was no more than the truth, no matter how painful – not perhaps the truth as the world perceived him, but the truth in so far as that it was something which anyone he allowed into his life could hardly avoid.

He supposed he should have expected it when Isa poked his head round his bedroom door, the night before his departure – he should have got used to the man's god-awful, inspired timing – but somehow he hadn't, and he was unable to stop his surprise from showing.

"Hi, Hans," Isa said cheerfully, "can René come out to play, please?"

"Hello, Isa. René is here but has little time to 'play' I fear. I need to get everything ready. I leave in the morning."

"I thought as much." He came in and sprawled out on René's bed, almost bouncing the suitcase and its content out onto the floor. "You did a good job on Olivier, you know? Broke his nose, two black eyes, and he sounds 'hidaridous'."

René assumed that last word was Isa's impersonation of how Olivier sounded.

"Oh," was all he could manage. He supposed 'good' was probably inappropriate, as well as not quite true, but for some reason he really wanted to say it.

"Yeah, Kits wanted to send you a gift basket, but they won't let you order ones with guns any more," Isa said blithely. "Shame, that. I mean, what do you get for the man who's got everything, up to and including a right hook I'd fucking kill for?"

"Left," René said automatically. "Get off my bed."

"No, it's comfy. You're left-handed?"

"No, I didn't want to waste my right hand on his nose," René said with a faint wince, well aware that he sounded as sectionable as Olivier had accused him of being.

Isa just shouted with laughter, bouncing up to a sitting position. "Hey, can I tell him that?"

"Yes… I mean, no." René scowled. "Look, Isa, why are you here? Could we get to the point sometime soon, I would like to try to get some sleep tonight while I still have that comfy bed to do it in."

"It is nice." Isa gave another bounce. "Oooh, do men appreciate the give the way women do? Nah, probably only the padding 'cause the angle's completely different isn't it?"

René rolled his eyes up to the ceiling as Isa clambered over onto his knees.

"Anyway, I'm here 'cause Olivier's a rancid arse but that doesn't mean the rest of us are, and I thought you probably need to hear that," Isa said, sobering up and finally sitting – or rather kneeling – still. At least, René thought, he was facing him rather than being on his hands and knees demonstrating the Kama Sutra for fully clothed beginners.

"Well, that's very – er – kind of you..." which it wasn't, it was distracting and troubling and disconcerting and not in the least what he needed, but he thought Isa probably believed he was being kind, and that required some sort of fairly polite response – "but you didn't need to."

"Yeah, except for the part where I kind of did." Isa sat back down on the edge of the bed, his bouncing all finished for the moment. "And really, Olivier's only being a rancid arse, he really isn't. Which you probably do know."

He paused for a moment before continuing, "You know his world's tumbled upside down and you know he's feeling completely disconnected because of the whole 'no sex' thing. I think that kind of has him scared, you know? That was the one way he was always certain of connecting with Claire, sex. And now he feels like he's not connected to anyone or even himself…and then you doing this whole…" he waved a hand at the suitcase and René, "…thing. He knows it's your job and he knows you have to do it, but it was one more disconnection. "

He gave a snort, "You should have punched him twice, maybe it would have knocked his head out of his arse."

René rubbed his hand over his face. "Yes, I don't think anyone can hit that hard, even twice..."

"True, that," Isa agreed with thoughtful evil in his expression. "Mike Tyson?"

"Oh, he's gone downhill, he just bites people these days," René said automatically, and damn it, why did Isa have to make everything so bloody understandable and easy instead of a knot of impossible?

"Oh." Isa actually looked disappointed. "Yeah, I don't think I want to work with Olivier if he's been bitten by Mike Tyson..." He cackled like a baritone version of the Wicked Witch. "Zombie boxer. Heh."

"Right, so Olivier's an arse and you lot aren't… is that it?" René looked pointedly at his remaining packing hoping that Isa would take the hint and leave.

"Well… except for the point that the girls are all out in the car and want to tell you goodbye at least. And not just because they think Olivier's a dick. And they promise not to stay more than a few minutes because they know you have a lot to do."

"Isa, I can't -" René's voice shot up and out of his control entirely. "I can't do that. I'm not doing that. No. Just – you tell them I said goodbye and I'm busy, because no." The idea was panic-inspiring, to put it mildly.

"Yeah, I told them I didn't think it would be on… but they don't always listen." Isa nodded. "I'll just have to do it for them and pass it on."

He stood and wrapped his arms around René, "Be careful. Be safe. Come back to us…please."

"Mmf," René said in rather half-hearted protest, and patted him awkwardly on the back. "Yes. Right. Will do. Get off. Now." Somehow, he always expected Isa to smell of wet dog, and was always amazed as well as pleased when he didn't.

Isa planted a big sloppy kiss against the side of René's face before letting him go. "That one's for me and for Olivier… because he's going to feel crap when he knows you've left without him apologizing."

And that was it, Isa was out the door before René could say anything more.

"I'd love to have your faith," René murmured, and returned to his packing.

The suitcase packed and closed, he stripped off methodically, unzipped the clothes he had chosen from their dry-cleaning bags by the wardrobe, and went to start scouring all that was René d'Herblay from his every pore, and soaking the first scents of Hans Keller into his skin, steeping the man into his body as well as his soul, until nothing else remained.


Chapter Text

"Hope is patience with the lamp lit."
-- Tertullian


Isa, having spent over a month fretting himself stupid over various things he had no ability to control – the immovability of their case being only one such instance, and his missing René when it came to breaking into people's files being a quite incidental factor in his frustration caused by said instance - and wrecked his own Christmas during the course of it, was finding, as January creaked its icy way to a close, that his temper was approaching Olivier's in terms of the length of its fuse.

Olivier, he decided one afternoon, was an idiot. He was an idiot, and he was blind, and he was merrily heading along a course of chaste and promising dates to wrecking Klara's every chance of being able to trust any man ever again – because Olivier, blast him, was going to let her down, for the simple reason that he might appreciate all her good qualities, but he didn't in fact want any of them.

Isa had pretty much had it with the whole stupid thing. He was fed up with Olivier, his divorce, his refusal to talk about René, his attempt at having or not-having a relationship with Klara, his great good fortune at the card table, and his constant commentary on Isa's profiling.

"You know what?" he said suddenly, getting to his feet and looming over Olivier's desk, as its occupant began another tirade about the uselessness of psychological profiles, "I give up. I listen to Lissa giving me hell because I love her and I have to, but the rest of you can just go directly to jail, do not pass go, don't get any money ever, okay? I'm done."

Olivier blinked up at him, obviously taken aback and none too happy, and Isa thought Good, even as Olivier unwisely ventured, "What?"

Isa waved his arms in the air, making Olivier duck, and exploded. "Everyone I know is a fucking psycho, René's making me psycho with his damn ethics and not fucking being here and maybe being hurt and maybe being dead and I have no clue any which way, and then you! You." Isa poked him in the stomach, painfully and hard, so that Olivier grunted in real pain. "You are the worst of all, because you're a crazy person and people – people end up falling in love with you and you don't understand anything and Jesus Christ, why am I trying to make you see reason? Why am I being reasonable to you in the first place? It's a waste of time! Do I look like I want to waste my time being reasonable?"

"Er." Olivier said, staring up at him like a rabbit faced with a suddenly determined stoat, "No?"

"Wow. You managed to get one damn thing right!" Isa continued. "One in five million that you've gotten dead wrong. Congratulations."

"Isa, wha--?"

"No. You don't get to talk yet. No talking. Because it was you talking that made things so messed up. You talking and saying things that might bloody well be true, but aren't important at all. But you said them anyway, didn't you? Like you have any kind of right to tell other people that they're messed up when your life is like it is, Mr. Glass House."

"Isa, if this about –"

"No, actually, no it isn't," Isa said, poking Olivier in the sternum again. "It isn't, because that would make it not about you, and I am trying here, I am trying really fucking hard, to get it into my head that everything is, actually, about you, including where I thought you were being human about something and someone else and it turned out that oh! surprise! You weren't at all, were you, you couldn't even be bothered to look up from your own navel long enough to notice that you – were breaking – René's – heart – " he punctuated the last with savage little jabs – "and then you let him fuck off being Keller and you never even said 'you know what, sorry, mate, I am a rancid arse and I screwed it all up and I shouldn't have said all that and hey, you know what, you're not a freak and no way would I let anyone section you in an eternity of ever', you let me apologise for you, and I don't know what the fuck I was doing because hey! It wasn't about what anyone else felt anyway, so who cares!"

"Fuck you, Isa." Olivier slapped his hand away. "The man fucking broke my nose and I'm supposed to be the one apologizing? In what world is that okay? Yeah, I insulted him, but he's been doing that to me since the moment we met, and I managed not to punch him for it. So excuse the fuck out of me."

Isa flung his hands in the air again and just yelled wordlessly, a long roar of frustration that was immensely satisfying. "Do you ever? Ever? Ever? Listen to you?" he demanded when he had breathed in some more air. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw de Treville at his office door, and couldn't have cared less. "You go on and on about psychologists and their uselessness, and it never occurs to you, does it, it never once enters your little mind, that I am good at being a psychologist and René thinks, God forgive the stupid spook, that we talk! Olivier, in what world, what world ever in any fantasy sci-fi creation with parallel trouser legs –"

"What the fuck –"

"Shut up, I'm talking – is it okay to tell a man that he's psychologically disturbed and needs to be locked up when your best friend IS A SHRINK? And you know what? Yes. Yes he does need to be locked up, because only gibbering lunacy could explain what in God's name he's found in you to love!"

Olivier roared to his feet at that, barking right back into Isa's face, "How the fuck should I know? I'm probably the most unlovable…thing on the planet. I get everything wrong. Treat everyone horribly and even my wife - MY WIFE! - can't manage it. So you tell me, Isa, how the fuck can he-- Wait... René what?"

"Loves you."

"Good God…."

"Yeah, God's taking a holiday on this one..." Isa said wearily, sitting down on the edge of Olivier's desk at last, feeling as though he had just run a marathon.

"But I," said de Treville nastily in Isa's ear, "am not. Take this conversation somewhere else, Isa, before I throw you both in the cells to cool off."

"Yes, sir." Isa latched one large hand on the back of Olivier's neck and drew him, unresisting, toward the door.

"Look, Isa… you have to be wrong." Olivier said as they exited the building and walked across the car park towards Isa's car. "René knows I'm not… I mean I never even thought about… Damn it, Isa, what makes you think something like that in the first place? I practically had to blackmail the man to get him to go on a couple of dates."

"Yeah, and look! We're back to you not listening to you again!" Isa said in mock surprise. "I know René knows you're – " He closed his eyes and wished for a noun that made sense. "Not," he said at last, in defiance of all grammar. "Okay, look. Can we move on from 'Isa is wrong and a dumbass' and onto 'Isa is very wise and very well-informed and does, in fact, know his shit', please? It'll save so much time."

"But he won't even date without me having to – " Olivier, mercifully for Isa and his sentence and possibly the thought processes of the two very interested uniformed officers on the other side of the car park, shut up. "Oh," he said.

"And the penny – drops – so very – slowly," said Isa, thumping his head onto his car roof with a groan. "Well done, Olivier."

Olivier climbed into the car and buckled up, looking rather numb while he waited for Isa. "But how could--? No, I'm not doubting you, Isa, but René's an intelligent man, how could he possibly fall for… I mean, did I do something to encourage him? God, this is horrible."

"Did you do – Jesus God, did you turn into a bigot while I wasn't looking?" Isa demanded in exasperation. "What, it's only okay for him to like men as long as it's not you, because ew, cooties?"

Olivier glared at him wordlessly.

"Yeah, silence good," Isa agreed, starting the car. "And count to ten before you say anything else."

"I mean," Olivier said, sounding a bit subdued, "did I make him think I could – that I'm about to – oh, for fuck's sake, Isa, I'm just trying to ask if – well, if – I mean, did I lead him on and make him think I'm going to -"

"Turn queer because of his utter irresistibility and gorgeousness? Kind of no," Isa said with a snort.

"God. I'm really shit, aren't I?" Olivier scrubbed his hands over his face. "I really had no clue, Isa. Not a single one. I mean… we were friends…or I hoped we were. And then Claire and the whole thing just went to hell. I moved in with him because I was trying to shake him up. And myself a bit too, I guess. Christ knows we both could use it. And then his undercover thing and all the horrid, horrid dates… for both of us… and when I finally, finally met Klara it was like meeting one person who wasn't a zombie from Mars or an evil succubus and… fuck…I'm fooling myself there too, as much as René ever thought and tried not to say. I'm not in love with her. I'm not going to fall in love with her. And René? He's fooling himself if he thinks I'm worth his love. I'm not, Isa. I'm so very much not."

"You are friends," Isa said tiredly, deciding not to touch the self-pity with a ten-foot sewer rod. "Look, I don't think René woke up one day and thought 'I know! I'll make my life totally impossible and fall in love with my partner's totally straight husband!'. I don't think he even knew he was until –" He winced. That was one thing Olivier didn't need to know, now or ever. Until Claire told him while he was recovering from the bullet he'd taken for her, after being tricked into fucking her for a camera. Jesus. I'll leave that one for Olivier to find out some other way. "Until I told him at the hospital," he said a bit feebly. "Look, he's not fooling himself, not about how he feels and not about what you're worth. He's a grown man and he's pretty self-aware and he's trying like fuck to be okay with how things are, but you going off on one that night wasn't –"

"Wasn't exactly the brightest thing I've ever done?" Olivier said wryly. "Yeah, I got that. Just – wait, what, in the hospital? You mean when he – when he and Claire – and he didn't – you had to tell him?"

And God damn all detectives, Isa thought tiredly.

"Pretty much," he hedged. He hoped Olivier hit the silent catatonic phase of shock fairly soon, before he rambled himself into working out the truth of just how René had found out what he felt.

"Shit… just… shit…." Olivier stared out through the windscreen of the car, but Isa doubted he saw much of anything. And, well, considering they hadn't pulled out of the car park yet, there wasn't much to see. "I had no idea. Not one. I… Fuck. I really don't know what I would have done if I had known. Probably screwed it all to hell just that much quicker…."

"Or left it the hell alone and just tried to do a better job of being his friend?" Isa suggested a bit snappily. "Because that's what you're going to do, right, Olivier? When he gets back. That's what you're going to do." He wasn't asking. He was telling. Olivier hadn't got so many good things in his life that he could afford to suddenly get principles on this score. René was prepared to go through hell to get his friendship, so Olivier could damn well cope and deal and give what he was capable of and keep his mouth shut for once. Isa wasn't usually an advocate of keeping quiet about things, but until Olivier got his head together, he wasn't just going to advocate it, he was going to damn well insist on it, thank you so much.

"Yeah…" Olivier nodded slowly. "Yeah. I'll… I'll do my best to, Isa. Fuck… I'm glad you told me now instead of me finding out when René was here because…damn. I know I would have fucked it up completely. This will give me time to…:" He gave a small snort. "Time to not feel sorry for him for caring about someone so fucked up. He'd hate that."

Isa manfully restrained himself from giving in to the urge to throttle Olivier, and pulled out of the car park before he ended up asphyxiating them both with the running engine. "Yeah," he said, and shut up, concentrating on the Paris traffic and leaving Olivier to his thoughts.

And if you can't work out from here what the problem you're having with Klara really is, Olivier, there's no hope for any of us, he thought a bit grimly, and sighed. Lissa was going to kill him when he told her what he'd done.

But then Lissa didn't believe in letting people come to things their own way. Isa, who had spent too many hours of his life counselling criminals into understanding what they were and why they had done things, knew that sometimes it was the only possible way forward.

Your problem stopped being about people not being Claire a while back, he thought, snatching a glance at Olivier in the mirror. Way before you even found out that might be an issue. And it's about time you faced up to the fact that you started to see what she was, you started to see what she'd become, because she wasn't René. Come on, you idiot. You're supposed to be a detective. You're too good at it for your own good most of the time, so please, please, please, start putting it together now.

Work it out, he thought imploringly, and narrowly avoided going through a red light. For all our sakes. Just work it out...


Hans Keller, former trafficker and the best groomer of underage girls ever known, was conveniently retired as well as being entirely fictional. He had been established as a ghost, a rumour, the Shangri-La among the crime lords of Europe, a man who had made enough money to life in extreme luxury somewhere that he wouldn't be hounded for further work or proof of nationality, and someone for whom a country concerned with maintaining its political standing and regaining its economic credibility was ideal. No-one concerned themselves with a solitary man who had been rumoured to live outside Jõhvi for the last two years, and was rarely seen.

That Hans Keller had, up until just before Christmas, been a conglomerate entity made up of whichever agent was willing to take his place for a temporary period was not known to anyone but the agents who ostensibly worked for him, keeping the house running and acting ostensibly as chauffeur and assistants to a man who in fact changed over persona with monotonous regularity. Keller's name had been slipped into conversation and mentioned as a possible contact – if only he could be persuaded out of retirement – so often and so casually that there were very few people remaining who had not heard of him. He was waiting in abeyance for the perfect time to use him – and when Semyon Luzhin, set upon taking his place among the real Mafia bosses of Russia, had displayed an interest in bringing Keller out of his retirement to do him one last favour, Interpol had decided that the time had arrived.

René might not have been as intimately involved with targets as Claire so frequently was, but he had taken Interpol's attention while they reviewed the bungled op on Gunter, and he had been approached as a potential face for Hans Keller before he had even asked for his transfer. René's reports on Gunter had included his commentary on Gunter's liking for underage girls, and he had noted that there was a need for supply that was being met in that area. Gunter liked them inexperienced – but most of the clients that Keller's supposed base depended on did not want that degree of inexperience. They wanted girls who knew the costs and knew the risks and were trained to provide innocence while also giving every imaginable protection and comfort. René's careful avoidance of judgment, combined with his equally careful perception of Gunter's preferences, would have brought him to the attention of the settled case specialists even if Interpol had not so spectacularly intervened in his undercover work in the first place.

Keller's fictional past had already established that he trained the girls, provided the traffickers with a kind of school to which they could send the chosen few, and sent them on – for a cut of the price – to their destined targets. He had been established as a world-wide operator since the very beginning of his conception, though his personality had been made up of nothing but rumours. The only thing known of him was that he was the best – and that he charged accordingly.

Semyon Luzhin had been stonewalled by Keller's 'assistant' until René was ready to go in. De Winter and René had created between them the man capable of inspiring such a reputation, slowly building him up from the ground set by the rumours started over two years before, and within the belief that had been carefully fostered in the world of human trafficking that this was the man capable of breaking and training even the most individual of girls.

In the bitterness of an Estonian winter, Hans Keller, the living modern golem, took his first phone call from Luzhin, and spoke the first words of his breathing existence.

"Most people would have stopped trying by now."

"Most people," said Luzhin on the tapped line, "are not me."

Across the room, Keller's 'assistant' gave René the thumbs up, and he swivelled his chair to block out the sight. He needed no encouragement, and he certainly did not need the reminder that he was doing this as someone he really was not. Keller would have been avoiding this for as long as possible, not watching someone else's pleasure in his contact.

"Mm, it seems not," Keller agreed. "I'm assuming that my telling you in person that I'm out of the game will prove – ineffectual?"

He closed his eyes as the window reflected the agent's frantic signalling. If this was enough to finally put Luzhin off, then they stood no chance in any case. He and de Winter had known from the start how precarious the maintenance of Hans Keller's persona would be – and the only chance they really had of drawing Luzhin in fully was to play Keller out to the end every time he spoke, believing in his irresistibility as strongly as Luzhin's repeated attempts to contact him suggested.

"Everyone has a price," Luzhin said mildly.

"Not me," Keller replied, amused and genial. "I'm priced out."

"If I offered you eighty percent?"

The agent on the other side of the room stopped his desperate movements, and Keller's eyebrows raised just a fraction.

"Well, you could offer," he said, faintly sardonic, "but I'd have to assume you were lying. I have an aversion to bargaining down, even from the safety of my pension plan."

"But you'd be interested," Luzhin said, wholly confident.

"That kind of offer? I'm interested in how you'd explain it," Keller agreed, still smiling, still a little perplexed, still evasive and utterly uncommitted to anything but finding out why he was having this conversation in the first place.

"Simple," Luzhin said, a faint, tell-tale exhalation showing the strain he was under to keep his voice relaxed. Keller was not, after all, known for his tolerance of fools. "I've had the first payment. The initial stages are done and dusted and I could stop here. But I want – more."

"Twenty percent of more? You're aiming too low, Luzhin, what makes you think I want that kind of association?"

"Because that's what I'm paying for," Luzhin said, too quickly to be anything but genuine. "Your name. Your backing. The association. You work with me, and people know –"

"Ah. So not a commission. Outright payment." Keller hummed softly to himself. "You're right. It's…certainly worth thought. But the question is – how good are you? Association has a nasty habit of working both ways, as I recall…"

"I'm worth it," Luzhin said, a hint of steel creeping into his voice, and René was not sure if it was he or Keller who laughed at that instinctive arrogance.

"I'm sure you think so! But not, perhaps, to me. I do have a reputation to consider…"

"So do I," Luzhin said.

"No, you have the makings of one. I may not want to…ally my name with that of a failure. And so far, you've been too….I don't want to insult you, but you must know I've looked into your dealings. A small fish, Mr. Luzhin. Very small. Tell me why I should enhance your….size."

"Only a small fish in the large pond," Luzhin said, regaining his confidence. "In the small pond –"

"Ah, yes. Too large entirely, I heard." And it was René who grinned savagely at his transparent reflection, not Keller at all.

"Then you see why I'm willing to pay."

"The cost of survival? I come too high," Keller said dismissively.

"I would consider it worthwhile."

"Would you indeed? Your values are…odd." René closed his eyes, humming a little. "Very well. Send your proposal – in full – to my assistant. I'll grant you the courtesy due to your persistence, and look it over."

"Then we have a deal?"

"No, we have the first step towards what may become a vague agreement," Keller said, and hissed out a laugh. "You're over-ambitious, Luzhin. Admirable, but unadvisable. I may be retired, but I still have my ways of dealing with….nuisances."

"I – heard."

"Then don't push your luck. Even eighty percent won't buy you loyalty that doesn't exist," René advised, and put the phone down, turning the chair back around.

"You just – you hung up on him!" the agent hissed.

"I ended the call," René corrected. "There was nothing more to be said."

"I'm going to remind you that I've been working on this for –"

"I'm going to remind you," René said coldly, "that I'm what you've got. Deal with it or ask to be pulled out. Because from now on, it's Keller's game. Not yours."

The agent's mouth tightened, and he drew in a visible breath through his nose, white-pinched nostrils flaring in controlled irritation. "Very well," he said after a moment, and then, grudgingly, "are you considering this seriously, Mr. Keller?"

"I'm considering looking at it," René said around Keller's nasty little smile. "That should be enough for everyone, don't you think?"

"Yes, sir," the agent agreed, and gathered his papers together. "I'll –"

"By all means," René said affably. "I do like a tidy office, as you know." He watched as the agent collected all the folders and hurried out, presumably to wait for the fax or transfer from Luzhin, and allowed himself the luxury of brushing a hand over his dry lips. He had not expected Keller to be quite as brazen, nor himself to be as comfortable with it, and he was glad of the few minutes in which to collect himself.

All roads lead to Rome, he reminded himself in not-quite amusement. All roads lead to an arrest. And all roads lead, whether you like it or not, to Keller's allegiance with Semyon Luzhin. So let any misgivings you have be his, and put your own aside. You're about to become responsible for human commodities. And there is no place for time-wasting scruples, whether you think it gives Keller breathing space or yourself the chance to come to terms with what you always knew you would be part of. Morality is at too high a premium this winter, d'Herblay. You can't afford the share prices.

He turned his chair again, and looked out at the barren grounds that surrounded Keller's house, staring through his own reflection at the patchy, dry lawn, already sprinkled with snow.

This is who I am, he repeated, the dull, arid mantra of survival. This is what I do. And I am succeeding.

He picked up his private mobile, where the SIM card would be replaced after each time of using, a one-way street of connection that showed him more than anything how utterly self-reliant he had to be, and placed the one-ring call through to de Winter that would let him know contact had been established.

I am succeeding, he thought, and opened the back of the little phone, taking out the chip and putting a new one in, melting down the old one with his heavy silver lighter, holding the flame to it as it rested in his ashtray until it was nothing more than an unidentifiable tiny mass of melted technology, stopping even de Winter from tracing him until he decided it was time to set up that particular kind of connection.

I am succeeding.

He lit a cigarette to mask the slight fumes from his calculated destruction, and inhaled deeply, drawing on the smoke as much for the burn on his tongue as for the hit of nicotine that was becoming more and more negligible to his system as the days passed. In five minutes time, Keller would drink his seventh espresso of the day, downing it in one swallow, wiping the rim neatly with a tissue that he would then dispose of, and handing the cup straight back to his assistant.

Keller protected himself. René d'Herblay concealed himself. And neither of them were more than ghosts and rumours.

I am succeeding.


March was pure, unadulterated hell, Olivier decided. There was no way around the thought. For days after their conversation in the car park, Isa had scowled at him on the slightest provocation. Worse yet, Connie and Kitty seemed to be following his lead. The only sympathy he got was amazingly from Lissa, but that was only because she seemed to think the turmoil he was suffering over the whole thing was punishment enough. De Treville just tried very hard to avoid them all, for which Olivier really couldn't blame him. He'd have done the same given the slightest opportunity.

And then there was his personal life…well, not that Isa and the others weren't part of that, but by personal, he supposed he meant his sex life, or lack of sex life. Somehow none of that seemed as important as it had in the beginning. Without René there to torment and be tormented by, things seemed to settle into a kind of routine. He had a few more dates with Klara and they were really nice, but somehow he just didn't seem interested in taking things any farther that the same gentle good-night kiss he had given her on their first date. Finally, he had told her what he was feeling and they had parted, if not as friends, at least with no animosity on either side.

There was no one else he was interested in and no one he wanted to subject his rapidly more depressive moods on. He spent most of his off work hours alone, sitting in René's house, reading or playing music, avoiding even Team Nights, his brooding broken only by flights of anger caused by almost nightly calls from Claire's lawyers or Claire herself.

Everything felt off. He discovered that he wasn't as much of a slob as he'd thought, because things stayed pretty much the same around him as long as he remembered to occasionally wash up or empty the ashtrays, but that was the problem. Things stayed the same, running down slowly into a kind of dull look of neglect that no sudden bouts of cleaning could ameliorate. It wasn't so much dirt as simply a gradual collection of uncaring that showed – things dusted rather than polished, the condensation on the windows in the early mornings left to collect as staining damp on the window frames during the day. Olivier, two months ago, wouldn't even have noticed. Now he felt irritated by it as well as guilty, because hadn't he been complaining about having exactly this privilege of disorder taken from him?

It shouldn't have mattered that the piano looked somehow smeared when he checked on it, even though it had been covered before René left, but it seemed, oddly, like the final little kick in the teeth, a last betrayal of everything he now knew René had been trying to conceal. He had got into the structure of René's house the same way he had into the man's life, and by virtue of merely existing, lowered its value – indefinably and yet tangibly.

It was a horribly lowering thought, driving his mood even deeper, and the spread smear of case notes through the living room just seemed to emphasize it. They mocked him as yet another failure, until he finally gathered them all up and boxed them to take back to the Sûreté. Had they been anything else he would have cheerfully built a bonfire on René's front drive, giggling over them like a demented pyromaniac.

Dufay had, as Isa had gloomily prophesied, developed a personality, and it was a thoroughly miserable one. Not that Olivier could blame him. Their lack of progress was matched only by the harassment that Armand du Plessis, just as René had warned him, was loading onto the department. So far, he was keeping his reports on their lack of progress to a few scathing paragraphs in articles relating to other matters – such as the police corruption Olivier was half-sure the man fostered in his spare time just to see what would happen – but his column was like the executioner's axe, waiting to fall on names and lives and just as certain, if more metaphorical, a death.

Worse yet, the man seemed to be everywhere, like a terrier with the scent of rat in his nostrils. Olivier began to wonder if the man was in fact twins, so often did he appear as they began their shift, left the office for any reason during the day. He even appeared the one night that Isa, finally done with his scowling, had convinced him to come out for a drink after work, invading even that refuge with questions and insinuations.

"Ah, de la Fère, how is your 'big case' coming?"

Olivier looked up at Isa, scowling, "There must be something wrong with the sound system, there's some yappy noise coming out of the speakers."

"Static." Isa said, screwing up his face in a yawn that for all Olivier knew was completely genuine. "Isn't that made by sun spots?"

Olivier went blank. "I thought it was electricity," he said.

"Yeah, but on the radio, isn't that sunspots?"

" can't be?"

"Oh, maybe it used to be sunspots," Isa said, looking pleased. "Now it's just signal interruption caused by...well, having crap signals."

"Because obviously, we got rid of sunspots along with radio towers," Olivier said, trying not to laugh. "Du Plessis, do you remember when we only had little radio towers?"

"Marconi..." said Isa dreamily, swirling his wine around his glass.

"Yes, too bad you can't solve crimes as quickly as you come up with inane humour," du Plessis have a small huff. "Or is it just that you're missing the third Stooge?"

"Still yapping, du Plessis. Did you actually want something?" Olivier scowled at him.

"I was just wondering – yes, before either of you say anything, I do, sometimes, allow myself the luxury of wondering – where d'Herblay is these days. Not that he's much use to me as a contact when he's here, but I've been hearing all sorts of insane rumours which I'm sure you'd like to put a stop to." Du Plessis smiled. It was marginally more frightening than when he was being persistent.

"I totally did not tell him to sleep with the chipmunk furry," Isa said helpfully, and pointed at Olivier. "That was all his idea, and anyone who says differently is a malicious liar."

"No, Isa, my idea was that he paint all the daisies in the Sorbonne meadow green. He so enjoys confusing the bumblebees." Olivier gave du Plessis a bland look, "Perhaps he's still there."

'No, I believe he's gone bit further afield than that." Du Plessis looked down at his note pad, "Italy or Spain perhaps?"

"Because of the different bumblebees?" Isa asked, a picture of honest confusion. "Now why would he do that? Everyone knows European bumblebees are all the same..."

Du Plessis glared at him, an expression that actually looked nicer on him that his previous attempt at a pleasant smile. "Or the rumour that he turned up dead in the Tiber last week, which I assume you're going to tell me is because of his deathly allergy to bee-stings."

"No," Olivier said, his voice growing harsh, "I'm going to tell you that's a lie."

"Right," Isa stepped in quickly, "because we all know that bees are one thing that René is not allergic to."

"Then I suppose it's also a lie that he got transferred because he was sleeping with his partner?"

"No, that was the chipmunk furry, I told you," Isa said patiently, his foot coming down hard enough on top of Olivier's to stop him thinking of anything but how not to scream.

"Good grief," said du Plessis, sounding genuinely disturbed. Through watering eyes, Olivier saw that Isa was still smiling at him, apparently as unconvinced by his seeming perturbation as he had been by either the glare or the pleasantry. "Do you honestly expect me to believe –"

"Since you can't print any of it," Olivier said, extracting his foot from under Isa's and returning the favour with a sharp kick to the inside of his ankle, "it doesn't matter, does it?"

Du Plessis's eyes narrowed, "Perhaps I have it wrong then. Perhaps there was some other attraction that caused d'Herblay's transfer."

That hit almost too close to home, and Olivier clamped his jaw tightly and moved his feet before Isa could repeat his earlier manoeuvre. "Yes… there certainly was. No, no, Isa… I have to tell him, really." He leaned toward du Plessis, "There's a Starbucks coming in right next door to his new office. The man's a horrid caffeine addict and that's one attraction he can't fight off."

"I'm beginning to wonder if he's just moved anywhere that doesn't involve having to talk to either of you again," du Plessis said wearily. "All right. As you say, it's not important – to me – since I can't print it. But I would have thought it mattered to someone if there's a body to be claimed." He got to his feet, and gifted them once more with his unnerving smile. "Enjoy the rest of your evening, gentlemen."

Olivier waved farewell lightly as if they had been merely exchanging the briefest of pleasantries, but as soon as the journalist was out of earshot, he turned toward Isa, his expression grim, "Fuck, Isa, you don't think anything… I mean what if it's the truth? How could--? I mean, we would have heard something, yeah? I'm.. I'm not supposed to know but his contact has my name if… if… Christ."

"No," said Isa, "I don't. I don't because I'm not allowing it, and if I say it's not allowed then it's not a possibility. Anyway, if we start listening to du Plessis we'll have to start actually talking to him, and then de Treville will kill us, and it'll be someone claiming our bodies, and I'd like to avoid that, so in general and for the record and let's never have this conversation again, please - no."

"Yeah… okay." Olivier took a drink of his beer, running his fingers over the condensation it had left on the table. The whole thing had made him feel edgy, not because he really believed du Plessis, but because the man seemed to have information that he shouldn't have. The Department of the Interior was usually much more secretive about who even was an agent, let alone that they might have transferred from one location to another.

"Yeah, that means your brain, too," Isa said hopelessly. "Ok, this is stupid. I'm going to an art class, if you want to come, or you can sit here and brood if not. Or go home and brood. Or whatever it is you're doing for fun these days – oh, right, yes, brooding. You could brood in the art class?"

"You're taking an art class?" Olivier's first thoughts flew to the possibility of live nudes and Isa scribbling away with a leer on his face.

No, Isa must mean for the case. At least, Olivier hoped he meant for the case.

"Yeah, I just thought – history of art, maybe that's where he's getting it, or maybe he once went to the class or maybe he's going to another class and is fascinated by fin-de-siècle, or is having an installation and – oh fuck, how would I know? He might be teaching it for all I know, this is so – so – so annoying..." Isa sounded genuinely irritated, and as fed up as Dufay. It occurred to Olivier that the source of his irritation should, possibly, be the focus of his own main concern as well, but somehow he couldn't really convince himself of the fact.

"I meant to discuss some of the information we got from your expert with René before he left, but---" but then René turned into Hans Keller five days out of six, and then I acted like an ass and then everything was fucked.

Isa made a face at him. "Yeah. Well. I take it that means you're not coming, then?"

"No, I'll come, I –" Olivier sighed as his phone rang, and glared in miserable resignation as Claire's number showed. "Never mind. Have fun."

Isa stood and gave him a supportive clap on the shoulder before leaving.

"Hello, Claire…" Olivier wondered if his voice sounded as resigned as he was beginning to feel. Resigned and annoyed and frustrated at the whole charade that their divorce negotiations had become. "What is it now?"

"I'm boxing things up," Claire said in a tight voice. "Because obviously, I have nothing better to do with my time. I thought you might like to decide whether there was anything you wanted before I marked it all up to be sold."

"Sold? Claire, you have no right to just dispose of things as you see fit." Olivier argued with her. "Nor to take whatever you like from my house."

"Your house, your things," she scoffed back. "I have as much right to them as you do."

"Not to sell!" Olivier was startled by his own vehemence. As long as he had thought of everything being in place, no matter who was in possession of it had seemed irrelevant, but the idea of simply converting it all to cash – things he had given, things he had chosen, things Claire had chosen – was a jolting kind of anathema. "You don't have the right to that any more than I do!"

"Oh for God's sake, don't be such a bore!" Claire snapped back. "It's easier if it's just money. Let the lawyers pull figures about instead of items, I'm not playing this bloody-minded game of who values what more highly any more!"

"It doesn't matter what you do or don't want. I'm trying to be fair but you--" Olivier once again found himself talking to dead air and a dial tone.

"Fuck!" He put his mobile back in his pocket and headed for his car. Maybe this was all for the best. He always had been able to handle Claire better in person than over the phone. He'd go to the house, let her rant and rave at him face to face and get it out of her system. Then hopefully she'd see sense.

The little voice in the back of Olivier's head made another very brief reappearance to remind him that the last time he'd seen Claire face to face, she'd tried to bash his head in with a telephone. Unfortunately, Olivier still wasn't listening.

He was fairly sure that by the time he got back to his parking space, he would have walked off most of the wine in his system and be able to deal with her in a calm, sober, and rational manner.

In retrospect, he was to wish that the voice in his head had also reminded him that the last time he'd seen Claire, he had wanted to kill her and only just stopped himself from giving in to his desire – but then again, he would probably just have ignored it. It just made it easier, several hours later, to have something to blame for what should never have happened.


Olivier looked at the book he had spread out in front of him. It was some huge coffee table edition of great art, a bit unwieldy for casual reading but the prints were sharp and clear, showing all the colours that the artists had originally intended - the splashes of Toulouse-Lautrec, the swirls of Van Gogh, and the wonderful leaf-filled interiors of Matisse.

Matisse… Claire's favourite, and this particular painting, Deux fillettes, fond jaune et rouge, one he'd attempted to purchase for her. He'd had to settle for a print. Its value was still rather high, but even so, it was one of the few things she was 'claiming' that he had no argument with.

He wasn't sure he was going to argue with her about anything ever again. Not if he wanted to keep what remained of his sanity – and when it came to Claire, he had realised in a moment of horrendous clarity, he had never been able to even pretend to it. Possessions and Claire – the two things he had been unable to separate, not because he had wanted to keep anything for some strange memorabilia of his failure, not because he had needed reminding of her, but because it was her he had always wanted to possess, the one thing he had never been able to buy or give or hold had been what consumed him.

And keeping it from him, whatever that indefinable part that was entirely her was, keeping it from him and letting him know that it was always just outside his grasp, that if he simply reached further, tried harder, loved more, he could have it.

He knew now why he had wanted to kill her, why he had been so reluctant to pursue any other relationship, why he had thought himself made nothing by her refusal.

He had been able to make her give herself over entirely to him in only one way – the physical – and convinced himself time and again that it was all he wanted. All he wanted because it was all he would ever have, all she would ever give, all that he could woo or buy or seduce from her. He could keep pouring out everything he was until the stars fell from the sky and Ragnarok's wolf swallowed the earth entire, and all he would ever possess of her would be her body.

The one thing he had ever had of her and the one thing he still wanted, like some addict trawling the streets for that last fix, the ultimate high.

Her body in his arms...

The ultimate seduction, the only flaw in her nature, her one vulnerability – that she still responded to his touch as she always had, as she could not stop, as he could not resist.

He wondered which of them had betrayed themselves the most, with their desperation.

Because even here, even now, in the noisy clattering chaos of his workplace, just the thought of her made his body react and harden in a way that he prayed to God was unnoticeable to anyone else. He could still feel her, as she was last night, panting desperately beneath him, her hands tangled in his hair as they kissed. The carpet rough beneath his knees as they moved--

"This one is kind of inspired, don't you think?" Isa flopped another book down on the top of his desk. It was a nude, a Bettie Page pin-up by Olivia de Berardinis.

"In a way that is absolutely not necessary, yeah, I guess," Olivier said wearily. "And I don't think that the killer's going to use it."

"Might if he develops some taste," Isa said hopefully.

"Or moves out of the fin-de-siècle," said Dufay, walking past with Olivier's box of files and depositing it on the desk between them. "I thought these were being worked on?"

"Yeah…" Olivier looked at the boxes, then up at Isa. "I'm trying to find somewhere else to live so I thought it would be best to bring them back here. They're definitely being worked on but… someplace, er, that's else?"

Because God only knew he'd imposed on René long enough… or how he'd feel about Olivier still being there if - when, he wasn't letting fucking du Plessis get in his head like that, when - he got back.

Dufay held up a hand. "Great," he said. "Wonderful. Please do so." He looked appalling, the case taking a toll on him that Olivier would never have suspected from the man who had so confidently introduced them to the boards and their work only months before. He took failure personally, it seemed, no matter how controlled and dull he made the briefings, and had started to view this case as an ongoing proof of impossibility.

Olivier nodded brightly at him, and Dufay walked off again, probably headed off to Carina's lab work samples with the fervent hope of a crusader in sight of Jerusalem.

"Fanaticism is always disturbing," said René in his mind's vault of memory, and Olivier flinched. "I've always thought there were good reasons for banning idolatry."

Thou art the very god of my idolatry...

But that wasn't love. That wasn't love, it was worship, and it was tainted, and Olivier knew it and craved it and was sickened by his longing all at once.

"What the fuck is wrong with you?" Isa demanded, breaking into his thoughts. "I know Dufay's annoying but 'someplace, er, that's else' - what?"

"I have a lot on my mind. Okay, Isa? A lot."

Legs wrapped around him as he pushed into that well-remembered tightness, fingernails clawing lightly at him to begin with, then deeper as he drove her and himself higher, to that point where he finally made that connection, took possession, took it all with him, screaming into a desire for oblivion and the white harsh light of comprehension.

"Do you. Do you really?" Isa sounded fed up. "Well, take it home."

"What?" Olivier jumped in his seat, startled at the harshness of the last word.

"Take it home," Isa repeated. "Go home and sort your head out, Olivier, because you're no use at all like this. Sit down and actually think about what you're doing instead of pissing about driving yourself insane with what you should be or should have been or what-the-fuck-ever it is you're obsessing over. And by the way? You've got a love bite on your neck and a scratch on your arm, and if you dare tell me it wasn't Claire I'll re-break your nose."

"What--? I…shit." Olivier scrubbed his hands over his face. "God, Isa… has my life always been this fucked up? I mean…Crap! I don't know what I mean."

"Yes," Isa said simply. "Go away."

"Yeah… sure…" Olivier stood, and picked up the file box. Of course, he wasn't sure where he was supposed to go. Not back to the house he'd shared with Claire, that was for damn sure.

Shirt buttons clattering on the hearth, against the side of the desk, the low moan of desire and--

Nor did he really feel right about going back to René's while he felt this way. It seemed, somehow, insulting to him and Olivier had done far too much of that already.

He ended up on the Pont Neuf, staring at the Île de la Cité and wondering when it would ever stop feeling like winter.

There's not even any green on the trees, he thought wearily. There's nothing.

It wasn't even really cold enough for winter to make its presence felt, despite the grey and the damp chill, nothing to bite through his unhappiness and make him feel something other than fogged over with misery.

It was as though the world had been caught in dead leaves and was drowning under their weight.

If there be leaves on the forest floor,
Dead leaves there are and nothing more,
If trunks of trees seem sentinels,
For what their vigil no man tells.
And if you clasp these guardian trees
Nothing there is to hurt or please.

But people weren't like that. You could only squeeze their hearts so many times and, unlike the trees, they would squeeze back.

I feel soul lost. Olivier thought. Disconnected and alone. The desire to hurt Claire physically was still there, burning away in spite of their brief…whatever the fuck it had been the night before. Hate sex? Self flagellation? Who knew? – and he was fighting desperately against recognising it for the ending it had been, but her betrayal went too deep, now, to avoid knowing what that had really told him.

Isa was right. He couldn't keep telling himself he wanted Claire when he knew that however true that was, it was also true that what he wanted wasn't her, but some chimaera of her, a desire for something that was impossible and yet had once been as close as the Promised Land.

Like Moses, he knew that all he would ever have was a glimpse of it, that whatever he had done in the past to merit this lack and this loss and this terrible knowledge of what neither of them would ever be, it had brought him here, to the Seine and the grey damp, and the knowledge that here was Heraclitus's river, here was his past and the things he could never repeat, flowing on.

And the only man who would have understood any of that was further away than any ocean could make him, a whole world of concealment and hurt away, hidden behind the rules of the Interior and the depths of hell that made up Hans Keller.

"I wonder," he said quietly, staring out over the river to the arches of Notre Dame, "would you lie to me now?"

No. René never actually lied, he merely evaded and covered up and wrapped around until Olivier forgot what the question was in the first place. But somehow at that moment, he felt like René was the master of plain speaking when compared to what Olivier himself had been doing in clinging to Claire, or at least the thought of Claire for so long. What was it he had said? That quote?

Oh, love is the crooked thing, there is nobody wise enough - to find out all that is in it.

He had finally found out what was in his love for Claire - hope and promises and yearning, and little else. René had known that. Known Claire, because he had trusted her more than Olivier had ever needed to, and known Olivier so deeply in those first moments that it still surprised him.

Had he any right to keep hoping that, someday, René might allow himself to be known in return?

René, isolated in Rome from everyone but de Winter and the two agents who were supposed to be his employees, and possibly most of all from the latter out of self-preservation, hardly noticed that the season was even considering changing. He would have been horrified to discover that he had missed almost a quarter of the year by dealing with each day's minutiae, every hour a struggle to maintain his cover and make Keller believable as the man undermined each step of the Rome trafficking.

Somewhere in his mind it was still autumn, he was still starting out, still beginning his work. The slowness of his progress and the rapidity of time's passage were too much at odds with one another for the movement of weeks and months to have any meaning for him any more. There was only Keller, and the lost souls he was trying to protect even as he went through the motions of setting them on their own personal paths to exquisitely trained destruction.

This meticulous brand of working was not only something that René excelled at, it was something that he needed at the moment. It kept him from thinking too far outside of the day to day press of business. It kept him from wondering if the waif of a girl with white blonde hair, determined to excel at what she did not consider as anything more than another job, and amenable to every perverted suggestion that Keller threw her way, looked anything like what Kitty would have looked like when she was younger. It kept his thoughts on the job and not, when he heard a beloved piece of music, wondering if Connie would appreciate it as much as he. He was centred and focused and not at all missing anyone who was far too tall and smiled far too often, and was hopelessly, shamelessly crap at poker. And he did not wonder, as he had in the refuge that Paris now seemed, a place more impassable and remote than the moon, what Olivier was doing, at least five times a day.

It was the one redeeming feature of 'being' Hans Keller – the man did not have friends, nor did he want them. René knew, in the small hard kernel of himself that remained, that if he had been forced to deal with that as well as everything else, he would have quite quickly started taking refuge in the drugs so casually and openly on offer. Semyon Luzhin might think highly of himself – alarmingly so - but his self-opinion was more than deserved. He was making his name as a drugs kingpin as well as providing businessmen with all the things they had no legal way of requesting, and he prided himself on the quality of his stock in all departments. If René had wanted to sharpen his wits with cocaine, or numb them with opioids, he could have done so whenever he chose. As it was, he relied on caffeine and nicotine and the constant slow burn of his over-used adrenal gland, and watched his face change in the mirror into Keller's living avatar, hollowed out and shadowed and predatory – a man who even frightened him.

He was certainly frightening de Winter, who offered, quite casually, to pull him out as March trailed and spun along its horrendous course. To his jolting, secret horror, René found himself on the verge of asking 'from what?' before remembering he was not Keller, this was not really his job, this was not what he did.

There were drawbacks to being a perfectionist, and being undercover brought them all to the fore.

I am René d'Herblay, he began to remind himself every morning when he looked at Hans Keller's face in the mirror. My name is René d'Herblay and I have my own life waiting for me. I have my own life. I have friends.

Although, how those friends would react to him when he returned was always a question. He'd seen too many agents go through it, that long difficult period of readjustment after being under cover. Sometimes it destroyed families and friendships, as agents tried to become themselves again…and failed.

He wasn't sure whether he even wanted to try to regain himself this time. Whatever he had made of his life, however much he needed it, it had also led to Olivier's outburst, to the painful, unforgettable accusation that he had heard levelled at him so many times and been able to ignore so often.


He was no more able to forget this time of its saying than he was able to pretend it was not based in truth, though, and the more Keller ate at his core, the more he wondered if he wanted to do anything but play a part, to be anyone but the persona Keller exemplified, the true sociopath, someone without morality or care, utterly selfish and devoid of humanity. Keller was left untouched by accusation or despair or love, because he felt none of them and needed none of them, and René was beginning to wonder if that wasn't the perfect state of being – a place to inhabit where all the things that underlay both René d'Herblay and Hans Keller were wanted and needed and useful – and no longer hurt.

Because, damn it, he did hurt, as much as he hated to admit it. Hated to his core that someone had managed to get close enough to hurt him.

And yet somehow, even with that hurt and hate and all the emotions that were a direct result of living at least part of his life out in the real world, with real people, rather than the rarefied ecosystem that was the Interior, where everyone hid themselves from each other and nothing was truth…even with all of that, he missed it. He missed stupid drunken phone calls making inappropriate suggestions, and losing his poker money to Kitty, and rubbing Lissa's feet…and he missed Olivier.

He did not miss him in the way he expected, not as an object of love or desire or even futile longing, but as a tangible force, missed his will and his insane determination and his terrible moods, missed the way he took the world and reflected it back in shattered, negative, fascinating shards of warped mirror, and could still laugh at himself for doing so. Olivier as an object of his love he could miss even when he was in the same room, the distance between what he felt and what he could show great enough for absence – but Olivier himself, Olivier who was made up of every impossible component the world had to offer his curtailed emotions – he had not known the lack of that man since he first met him.

René was learning that it was not, as he had always read and thought to be a lie, the right of every man living to be loved, but their right to love, no matter how ludicrous the world might find it.

It was, he thought sometimes, a good job that he had an eidetic memory. He had once thought it something to be used at his academic pleasure, had complained when he was younger that he suffered from it rather than benefited; but now, with Keller's deliberate refutal of anything beautiful constraining his outward life, he was infinitely grateful for it. His mind retreated into Marvell's happiness, the green thought in the green shade of Keller's corruption; retreated into lines that he had thought forgotten, imagery that he would have laughed at scant months before:

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way...

He did not, he came to realise. He only knew how to love in this odd, hidden, untold way that could so easily spill from him into disaster, that could only lead him to more pain.

René mourned what he was becoming, even as Keller rejoiced in it, twisted it, used it to his advantage, and de Winter structured his becoming to Interpol's needs. He was losing himself in the undercurrents of his own soul, and finding pleasure in it.

And then his assistant disappeared, and everything he was, all levels, all fear, all truths, were subsumed in a desperate search to find out if he had been betrayed, and if so, who by.


March was winding down to its inevitable conclusion, springtime blossoming out in its colourful profusion in spite of Olivier feeling like he was trapped in limbo. His days had become an unending cycle of unavoidable unpleasantness. There were mornings which began far too soon after he had fallen asleep, what little peace he had often interrupted by the blare of his mobile with more tirades of filth from Claire or, as had happened more than once, by Isa calling him out to investigate something they hoped would be another piece of the puzzle, but more often was simply a dead end.

Once he was on the job, the days settled into a dull sameness, where banging his head on the desk provided the only relief to a brain that was whirling endlessly with crime scene pictures, and files, and Isa's art books. Then an all-too-short lunch and back to it again, having gained nothing by the end of the day but a stronger feeling of despair and a more virulent hatred for the 'gentlemen' of the press.

Du Plessis, thankfully, seemed to have departed for something that was either moving faster or more attractive to vultures – Olivier was not sure quite what kind of bird he had the man pegged as, but it was definitely either carrion-eater or raptor – but his co-workers were more than eager to fill his place.

At least they didn't know disturbing amounts about supposedly undercover Interior agents, Olivier reflected, but it was small consolation when he had to face the five reporters who now viewed the pavement outside the Sûreté as their home, and were there earlier than him in the morning and later than him at night.

"You do know," Isa said exasperatedly one lunchtime, as Olivier slowly and thoughtfully poured instant noodles immersed in boiling water out of the window and, he hoped, straight onto the heads of the unwary reporters, "that it's not you they really want? They're after Dufay."

"Yeah, but he seems able to avoid them," Olivier pointed out with what he felt was unanswerable logic. "So I'm returning the unfairness. Like Nemesis."

"What, you've got two faces?" Isa asked, but the humour seemed tired and forced. Isa was feeling the pressure of their continuing stalemate more than anyone else but Dufay, Olivier knew – he had started to think of himself as being the profiling expert, which considering his actual experience was a self-image doomed to end in failure, and was furious with his own shortcomings, feeling as though he was assigned to predict the killer's moves, and coming up blank day after day.

"No." Olivier answered, closing the window on the outraged squeak his actions had caused. "I wouldn't dare. The one face I have looks bad enough at the moment."

He really did look like shit. The long unremitting days, and longer, restless nights had seen to that. If his days left him with the feeling of missing something pertaining to the case, his nights left him feeling that he'd missed something in life. Something that was as important as it was undefined, and his nightly dreams were filled with searching for it, whatever it was.

"True," Isa said with what Olivier couldn't help but feel was unnecessary honesty. "But, you know. If you smiled I bet it would crack in two, and then you'd be sorted." He went over to the window, and squinted down. "Oh look. That one's got noodles in his hair. Wonder if he'll attract birds...."

Olivier made a noise that wasn't quite a laugh and wasn't quite a growl, but seemed to be the closest thing he could manage lately to express even the slightest bit of humour.

Not only do I look like shit, but I'm becoming a sad shit, Olivier thought with a shrug. Sometimes he wondered why any of his friends even bothered speaking to him outside the confines of the office…and other times he knew they only did it so they could enjoy his suffering.

Part of it was due to his own stupidity in announcing his intention to find a place of his own. Kitty had offered to help him pack, and 'mislaid' everything he needed so that he had spent three days looking for it all and then been too tired to contemplate anything more proactive than face planting onto the sofa and occasionally changing channels on the television in a bid to provide himself with a kind of white noise. Isa had changed the passwords on the security locks so that Olivier was locked in the house (and he was damn well going to make sure René found out just who had been responsible for that particular little fiasco and cause appropriate damage) and he was now never sure, when he let himself in and out, whether it had happened again. It seemed that the world and his friends and their conglomerate, infuriating stupidity had conspired to ensure he couldn't walk out of a front door that wasn't even his without cringing in fear that something awful was going to happen.

He wondered if any of them knew how blatantly transparent their attempts to keep him in René's home were. If they really thought he could not figure out what their obvious Dolly Levi behaviours were meant to accomplish. They were simply wasting their time.

He missed René. He didn't need any of them to point that out to him. He missed his wit and his sharp sense of the ironies of life. He missed him fussing over rings on the furniture and the takeaway slowly going green in the fridge. But most of all he missed his calm and common sense…that true clear voice of reason that would tell him that Claire wasn't a demon spawned from the pits of Hell.

He'd say she was Lucifer, say she was Lucifer himself, without a flicker of the irony he was bound to be feeling at that, and make Olivier laugh despite himself. He would bring up statistics and quotes and translations and cross-reference the Bible if he had to in order to prove it, and then sit back looking like a smug philosopher until Olivier threw things at him and made his facade of dry humourlessness crack into sly laughter.

He missed being able to do that. He missed being made to think outside the box and feel that nothing was insoluble, nothing was unbearable, nothing existed that could not be overcome by time and endurance and persistent faith.

He missed, if he were honest (and he had found himself, recently, allowing no other recourse to his frantic mind) someone who had that kind of faith in him.

"… and he had two horns and one enormous glowing purple eye and… oh, hullo, you are in there, then, are you?" Isa waved a hand in front of Olivier's face. "I've been talking to you for the better part of five minutes and to say your brain had gone on sabbatical would be an understatement."

"Couldn't have been very interesting, then," Olivier pointed out. "I came back for the purple horn –"

"- Eye –"

"Yeah, that. So anything else must have been well below par in the interest stakes."

"Probably," Isa said, looking comfortably evil. "Any particular reason you were thinking about purple horns?"

"Oh, share!" Kitty said, coming into the room. "Purple horns, sounds good..."

"Expand on that, anyone, and DIE!" yelled de Treville from behind his firmly shut door, and Isa blinked.

"He has superpowers," he said solemnly.

"Awesome superpowers," Kitty agreed.

"So do I." Olivier shrugged, shutting down his computer.

"Yeah, right."

"No really. I'm psychic and I predict that since our shift is over, you'll walk me to my car, run interference with the press, and then we'll all go have a drink." He shrugged into his suit coat. "I'll even treat…and turn off my mobile."

"How can I resist such an offer?" Isa asked the ceiling.

"Please, don't!" de Treville yelled back.

"Oh my God, he is God," Isa yelped, and grabbed his jacket. "Now let's go now please, I'm scared of lightning..."

Olivier, stealing a look at de Treville through his half-closed blinds as they left, saw that he was engaged in something that closely resembled banging his head on the desk, and tried not to laugh. He nudged Kitty instead.

"Wow," Kitty said in awe. "Oh, wow..." She lifted her phone, and took a picture. "Classic, Isa, you made the captain headdesk..."

Isa turned, and looked, only to receive de Treville's full-on glare in return. He blinked, whimpered a bit, and retreated. Kitty made a noise like a pleased hen laying an egg.

"René would love--" her face suddenly fell. "I don't suppose anyone has heard anything?"

Olivier scowled at her. "Of course no one's heard anything. If anyone would have heard anything then 'anyone' would have told 'everyone' and we'd all bloody well know."

"Olivier!" Isa's voice cracked through his tirade.

"What?" he snapped back, irritated. All right, so it wasn't Kitty's fault that there wasn't any news, but damn it, she had to know better than to ask a question like that by now. "I don't see why I have to be treated like I'd just forget to mention it or something."

"I thought we'd had the discussion about it all being about you," Isa said mildly, and Olivier snapped his mouth shut, almost choking on the breath he had taken to continue expressing his thoughts, and just glared at him.

"Right," said Kitty, not sounding in the least perturbed by either of them as she glanced from one to the other, and Olivier was never, ever going to understand women as long as he lived, because shouldn't she have been at least a little upset by his tone of voice? "So no news at all?" She still sounded the same, concerned and gentle and Christ, she couldn't have been more forgiving of him if this had been a year ago and they were talking about Claire – and that was suddenly too much to think about, especially with Isa's dark eyes still on him, willing him to say or do something that he couldn't work out.

Oliver let his breath out, long and rough, avoiding Isa's intent gaze. "No. Nothing. Not a God damn thing."

It had been so long, but how long was too long when it came to being undercover? Would it just go on and on until….it didn't? And would the first clue he had that it was over be René's appearance on his own doorstep - or a short phone call or note that said, "You should be proud knowing that he died serving his country."? Except that he wouldn't. He wouldn't get that, even if René actually had named him as the first point of contact he wouldn't get that, because people who did what René did didn't merit that, not as he had, not as Claire would have had if he had died, and oh,fuck, but none of that helped.

He really needed to get over this. He really needed to get himself straightened up and find someplace else to stay. He really needed-- "I need a drink."

"You need a brain," Isa muttered, rubbing a hand over his face, and Olivier wondered what he was getting wrong now. Should he have apologised? Kitty didn't seem to need or expect it...but then Isa was unpredictable lately, and Olivier finally let himself acknowledge, with a pang of guilt, that it was not only the case and his efforts at turning profiler that had Isa tied up in knots. Despite his brave words in the bar, du Plessis had got to him, as well. He gave Isa a more concerned look than he had earlier, but Isa brushed it off with his customary insouciance, muttering -

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm shutting up and coming..."

"I always wondered what it took to get you to shut up," Kitty agreed with a smirk, and the howl of protest from de Treville's office had them all leaving in a hurry before he could prove that actually, yes, he did hurl lightning bolts when he was finally annoyed past bearing.


René spent his days putting out word that Keller would like his assistant back immediately, alive and undamaged, and took more pleasure than he should in coming up with details as to what would happen if this were not to occur. Luzhin laughed and shrugged and made jokes about good help being hard to find, but not that hard, until René made it clear that he was about to hold Luzhin personally responsible if anything had happened, and every example he had given of possible repercussions would be something he was more than happy to demonstrate on Luzhin in person, if necessary.

Luzhin stopped laughing and started looking, and admitted after a couple of days that he was equally worried, because no-one wanting to disappear was capable (in his opinion) of hiding from both of them for more than two hours. And if someone had taken him, then they weren't interested in playing ransom games or proving a point, they were interested in making Keller vulnerable, and that put Luzhin in an impossible position. Eighty percent was not, as Keller had originally pointed out, enough to buy loyalty – but it was a large enough amount to concern the one who had signed up to provide it. If Keller backed out now, he would still take the money, and leave Luzhin with half-trained underage girls and no contacts to whom he could sell them on. Staring disaster in the face, Luzhin made René's missing agent his priority, and afforded de Winter a kind of bitter amusement at how very much more capable he was at tracking down missing persons than any search Interpol could make.

It was on the day after de Winter's agent, along with the body of Keller's supposed facilitator in Rome – actually René's contact with Italy's branch of Interpol – washed up on the banks of the Tiber, both of them knifed and both of them killed on the same day, that René started to appreciate his problem and seriously worry about how compromised he was, and Armand du Plessis made his first approach.

Keller liked cafes, not so much for anything they could provide him with as a place he could be found and a place from which he could observe and at the same time be seen to have a routine. René had found that Luzhin got more nervous if he had an unbreakable pattern to his days rather than being in any way unpredictable – it seemed to have him convinced that he was still more of an irrelevancy than a focus in Keller's life, and anything that kept him off balance was something René was more than happy to foster.

He was sitting outside, comfortably warm in his thick overcoat and fine gloves, sheltered from the wind by the canopy and feeling the pale sun warm his back, when du Plessis sat down at the table adjacent to his, directly facing him, and raised his eyebrows.

Keller smiled blankly back, the epitome of a man knowing himself to be approached but not sure why, and René, inwardly, cursed.

"The hair," du Plessis said quietly, "doesn't suit you."

René just blinked at him. "If this is a pick up," he said amusedly, "you need to work on your lines."

"Now, why would I be trying to pick someone up whose interest is obviously not for the older man?" du Plessis asked, clearly rhetorically, and looked over his sunglasses straight into René's eyes. "You're in trouble, Keller."

"I'm annoyed," René agreed. "Is that the same thing?"

"Your two missing men are agents. Doesn't that bother you?" Du Plessis's coffee arrived, and he took a sip. "Bah. Parisian coffee is better."

"Than Roman? Your taste is appalling," René said, letting one eyebrow quirk up. "Agents, really. So someone is targeting my men, because they're....agents. I think I'm missing something."

"Claire de la Fère thinks you are, yes," du Plessis agreed, adding sugar slowly and carefully to his coffee, and stirring once on each tiny tap of the packet. "But then she think I'm missing out on the scoop of the year, as well."

René took in a deep breath of cool air, and closed his eyes for a second, unable to prevent himself from showing that much reaction, even as he quelled his desire to explode into weeks of pent-up frustration.

"Claire," he said at last. It wasn't a question. It was a need to know just how far her betrayal had gone.

"Well. Better me than Luzhin," du Plessis said with a faint shrug.

"Not really," René said absently. "Luzhin wouldn't believe her. Keller's reputation outweighs a beautiful woman's accusation every time, and she knows it." He shared an ironic smile with du Plessis, both of them recognising the truth of that, and du Plessis tilted his head a little in acknowledgement of his point.

"True. But I believed her. And I've wanted the inside word on just what the Interior thinks it's up to for a long, long time. Keller's creation is – just what I need."

René sighed. "Run an article on Keller, and you'll find yourself neck-deep in shit," he pointed out obviously. "Why immerse yourself in the mire on Claire's say-so?"

"Because I'm giving you a choice," du Plessis said, and smiled, lifting the coffee cup to his mouth and taking another sip. "Mm. Better. Most things need sweetening, don't you find?"

"No," René said flatly. "What choice?"

"I've got two articles I could run," du Plessis said, looking intently at the table top. "One exposes Luzhin and Keller and what they're doing here. Which would force them both to disappear and leave no trace. No trace at all, I would think, including their – stable. And we both know there's only one way of doing that. The other...exposes you. Who you really are. What you've been doing for the Interior. What you've been prepared to subject those girls to just to bring Luzhin in." He smiled. "Your reputation, d'Herblay, or their lives. Interpol and Luzhin, or a few discarded commodities no-one cares about."

He brought some money out of his pocket, and left it on the table, along with a folded piece of paper. "Your call. I'm always to be reached at that number..."

"Oh, I'm sure you are," René said dully. "So, a choice and a phone call and the displeasure of your attention – what did Claire offer you?"

"An inside line to an inside man," du Plessis said, getting to his feet and smiling down at him. "I want the story. I couldn't care less about you, your sensibilities, or your former partner. I'll just take what I can get to make my name stand out. And right now – I've got it all, whichever way you twist in my wind."

René nodded, slowly. "I see. Self-serving to the very end, how very....unromantic. You don't suit Rome at all, do you?"

"Oh, thousands of years of corruption and bribery? Just my thing, as it happens," du Plessis said lightly. "Call that number, René. I don't know who's taking your agents, but it's not anyone involved with what you're up to. And whatever happens, that killer is headed straight in your direction."

"Are you threateningme?" René asked on a little bubble of incredulity. "Are you actually telling me that oh, shock and horror, my job could get me killed if I don't do what you want?" He didn't have to feign his look of amazement. "Christ, you've got nerve."

"No," du Plessis said, almost sadly. "I've got a scoop. No matter what happens, I've got my story. The question is whether you want your reputation or your salvation more."

"At the risk of sounding like a cliché," René said through gritted teeth, "Publish and be damned. Keller could have you killed the moment you leave this table, have you considered that?"

"But you won't," du Plessis said unanswerably, and put his hands on the edge of René's table. "Think about it. Think. You can save those girls' lives. And the only cost is your job. It's the best bargain you're going to get..."

René looked up at him, and quite casually moved so that his coat fell open, his hands lying clear on the table.

"I could kill you myself, here," he said quietly. "And I will."

Du Plessis nodded, and stepped away. "I'm giving you a week," he said calmly. "And then I'm making the choice for you." He inclined his head, an odd little salute. "I'm told you're a man of integrity," he said, oddly gentle. "And I'd rather not be disappointed."

"Goodbye, du Plessis," René said coldly, and pulled out his cigarette case with steady hands, lighting one with an unwavering flame. He took his first drag, closing his eyes on the inhalation, and signalling the conversation's end.

When he breathed out, and let his eyelids rise, du Plessis was walking away.

René tilted his head back, and blew out smoke, calm as a man who had just had a casual conversation about the weather with a fellow newcomer to Rome.

"Claire," he whispered to the Roman streets. "Why?"

You have my number...just like I have yours.

René shook his head, and got to his feet, stubbing out his half-smoked cigarette and leaving money on the table. As he walked past where du Plessis had been sitting, his hand flickered out and took the paper, a whisper of movement that hardly even disturbed the air.

Then he took out his phone, and called de Winter.

"We have a problem," he said curtly.


The house was completely dark when Olivier arrived, its eyeless windows staring at him in blank malevolence. Or so it seemed. Or it might just be that he'd had too many days of frustration and too many nights of staring at the ceiling and was beginning to hallucinate.

Wonderful. To start seeing ghosts would be all he needed on top of everything else.

Of course, once he entered the kitchen he realized that the only ghosts in René's house were the ghosts of leftover pizza and the only spirits those that came in a bottle. The owner would permit of nothing less – even if René were dead, even if he were the body found in the Tiber, he would be trying to cause as little inconvenience as possible – the world's most considerate ghost, as he was the world's most inconsiderate memory. Olivier was being haunted by a living spirit with politeness hang-ups, and it was utterly, painfully ridiculous.

"Next I'll be hearing bad jazz," he muttered, but the words rang hollow, because right at that moment, he knew, he would have given anything to hear the stretched discords, the familiar pause as René reached for his drink, the sudden trail of cadenced improvisation. Even if it turned out to be Hans Keller sitting there, he would have paid to hear it.

His mood must have got through to Dufay – either that or his mood combined with Isa's almost palpable desperation had been too much for the man to bear, because he had sent them and the rest of the team home on a weekend break – or rather an 'if nothing else happens or no-one gets a sudden breakthrough' weekend break, which in the current climate of nothing-happening, amounted to the same thing. The display of thoughtfulness from their superior had freaked Isa out to the point where he hadn't even wanted to stop for lunch or a quick drink, heading straight home to his doubtless empty flat. Apparently the combination of Olivier and Dufay was too much for him.

Not that Olivier blamed him. Even he was tired of himself, and all he really wanted to do was drink enough supper to fall into bed and, hopefully, get some nice dreamless sleep. It was probably a vain hope. No amount of alcohol seemed to slow his brain from its endless cycles.

"Round and round and round it goes…" But Oliver knew right where it stopped. It stopped the same place every night, playing echoes of that final conversation.

My clothes and things are upstairs, aren't they? Unless you threw them all out on the back lawn in some kind of odd cleaning fit.

Sometimes I'm afraid that you'll sweep me right out the door with the dust or try to disinfect me when I walk in the door.

How could he have said those things? And with René being in so much pain at the time with his fucked up contacts. Sometimes he didn't even understand himself.

I want you to wake up and work out that anyone else and they'd have you bloody sectioned half the time, you – are – not normal, René, you're a damn freak and it's time you came to terms with the fact that's not Keller, it's you!

And René, the only thing separating him from Keller by then being how he felt towards Olivier, could only have taken that one way, just as Isa had misunderstood his panic in the car.

Did you turn into a bigot while I wasn't looking?

"Fuck, fuck, fuck," Olivier groaned.

How was he to have known? How could he have known? It wasn't as though he –

And there his mind stopped, stopped and caught up with itself and took him with it in a searing, painful second of insight that sent him back to where all of this had started, sitting on the kitchen floor in a world of unendurable pain.

"It's not as if I knew what love looked like," he whispered.

He'd had no true experience with it. The more distanced he became from Claire, the more he realized that, not only hadn't she loved him, but that maybe he hadn't loved her. Oh, he'd been obsessed with her, and felt affection surely… but love? No, love didn't make you insane, no matter what the poets said. It could make you uncaring about unimportant differences, but it didn't make you insane. His passion for Claire had made him insane.

And wasn't it ironic that the person who had first recognized that in him and made him begin to see it, was René?

Oh, love is the crooked thing...

Had René known what love was from the inside even then?

Yes. Indubitably, unmistakably, yes. No-one could look across a room and tell the truth from a simple gesture like that and not know.

I'm not saying anything against Alexander,
Only I have seen people who were remarkable,
Highly deserving of your admiration
For the fact that they were alive at all.

René and his poetry, even then trying to tell him that he was seeing the world, not in a grain of sand, but through a glass darkly.

He suddenly stood, walking down the hallway toward René's room and the library of a study beyond it. He had so wanted to know René, gain those confidences that the man gave out so sparingly. Being honest with himself, he had to admit that he'd probably missed that chance. But perhaps he'd be able to glean something, while he was still in René's house with access to his books.

How better to know a man, but from the company he keeps…

And what other company had René kept, but his books?

Well, other than his old computer games and his choice of relaxation technique. It was possibly the oddest combination he had ever encountered – the man who kept his living room like an archive of academia, and unwound by beating CGI characters to death with their own limbs.

Olivier snorted out laughter, and put on the main light as he went into the study, realising as he did so how often René kept lights low, choosing table lamps or corner lights rather than overhead ones, however well-shaded. He somehow didn't think it was for any reason so convoluted as a liking for shadows.

How often had René come back with a headache, or with his eyes burning? How often had he come back himself to see that undemanding expression framed by the rimless glasses?

He went to the desk, and flipped open the spare glasses case – or what he had assumed was spare – that always sat there. Under the harsh overhead light, the lenses darkened to yellow, reflecting and softening the glare. Olivier closed his own eyes, cursing his stupidity. Not short-sighted, not astigmatic, not anything but prone to tension headaches, and that an added burden to a man who prided himself on his technological skills. And he had lived with that, and seen that, and never connected any of it.

Off, off, off, turn that damn thing off before I take the bulb and shove it up your nostril!

René's reddened, painful eyes glaring at him as Olivier spewed out the venom intended for someone else entirely.


How magnified by pain had every word of Olivier's been that night? How often had the headaches been that bad, and René concealed even that from him by simply not appearing?

"What the fuck is his job doing to him?" Olivier demanded of the silent room.

It wasn't something he could answer, any more than he could answer as to what he would do if René refused to see him when he returned, and he was left without anyone to ask these things of.

He scanned the room but it had changed very little since the last time he had been there. The raggedy sweater was gone, but that was to be expected - it would not have fit in with Keller's life in any form and would have been distracting – but its disappearance sucked out what little life there had been in the room, leaving it cold and too, too sterile.

Olivier shook his head. He knew that René felt that his home reflected who he was, but Olivier had never felt that. René had much more warmth than this Spartan chamber, it was merely hidden, kept like a treasure that he shared with only a few.

He tried to adjust his mind, to see beneath the obvious and truly look around him, to try and see things through René's eyes rather than his own. Clutter was essential to him, everything he owned was there to be seen, as though he needed to prove his existence in some way. But René was the opposite, as though the more carefully he wiped away traces of his passage through life, the more fixed he was within it.

The more precise things were, the more they mattered. If René had actually given a damn about his living room or his fridge or anything else to do with the main rooms of his house, he would have been carefully organising and clearing them at least twice a day. But he hadn't. He had left Olivier to take over in whatever way he liked, and opted out – because he had known that mattered to Olivier, and considered that to be more important than some vague irritation caused by things not being in place.

But René's study...

The books were aligned and ordered to whatever insane filing system René carried in his head, all in perfect, regulated harmony with one another.

But not by topic, not alphabetically, not by anything that made visible sense to Olivier once he actually looked.

The section of the bookshelf closest to the desk was the worst, making no sense at all. Poetry in seven different languages, and none of it even from the same era or, from what Olivier could understand, even from similar schools. Neruda and Pessoa and Donne all together, neat and leather-bound and fitting in size – and bearing no relation at all to their proximity.

The only thing they seemed to have in common, other than their relationship to the desk, was the fact that they were all poetry. That position though, might be significant, he supposed.

Olivier sat down at the desk and reached out one hand. Yes, all those books were within easy reach, which could mean that they were favourites, frequently referred to, or possibly just the most recently used. There was no way of knowing for sure.

He pulled several out, checking the bindings for wear, looking at the copyright dates, trying to find something that made them special, apart from their subject matter.

His Spanish was woeful and his Portuguese non-existent, and he didn't much like Donne, so the Neruda and Pessoa and bloody metaphysics got dropped on the floor pretty quickly, with a silent, guilty promise that he'd put them back afterwards. English translations of some things and no French to speak of. Brecht, who thought great men were missing something, but not in French, nor even a copy of the English translation René had sent him, almost a year ago now. Just the German, the copy Olivier had seen out in the study all that time ago, when René first brought him up there to lecture him about du Plessis.

He fanned the pages idly, wondering just how many languages René could read and speak, when suddenly a large number jumped from under his thumb. He fanned them again, and the same thing occurred. Slowly he fanned the pages a third time and… there was something tuck inside the book, a marker of some kind. Not a proper book mark, that would have been far too obvious for René, but a very small plasticine sticky note, bright blue and pushed in as close to the spine as possible.

Olivier looked at the poem that began on the facing page.

Ich will mit dem gehen, den ich liebe.
Ich will nicht ausrechnen, was es kostet.
Ich will nicht nachdenken, ob es gut ist.
Ich will nicht wissen, ob er mich liebt.
Ich will mit ihm gehen, den ich liebe.

It would have to mean something important to René for him to trouble marking it, but Olivier could understand very little.

"Hmmm… Ich would be I… and nicht, I think means not." He frowned. "Liebe is love, isn't it?"

He assumed will meant the same in every language that spelled it the same, and that most things that sounded similar to English had vaguely related roots, at least. He opened René's top desk drawer, and pulled out the notepad he had expected, along with a pencil.

Half an hour later, and with the perusal of a dictionary that was large enough to contain the whole of the German language in longhand, let alone in definition, and was decidedly unhelpful on just about everything straightforward, Olivier had gathered that the poem which meant enough to René for him to mark it was comprised of utter gibberish.

Either that, or Brecht was writing in tongues.

"I will go with them then I love," he tried out, and crossed it out again. "Oh come on. That doesn't even start to make sense as a concept..."

The poem had no title, not even something as obscure as Verse Seven or One Hundred Twenty-three. But it did have five lines, that was something he could match…maybe.

He went down the hall to his room, looking for his own book. If he was lucky, he might be able to match the number of lines and the words that were recognizable.

After a few minutes of flicking through, he was beginning to wonder what the hell he was trying to do anyway.

The first one he found that was even vaguely similar couldn't be the poem even with an entire world of poetic licence. It had five lines, it had no title, and it was cryptic as all hell, but there all resemblance ended.

Send me a leaf, but from a bush
That grows at least one half hour
Away from your house, then
You must go and will be strong, and I
Thank you for the pretty leaf.

"Yeah, thanks for nothing," Olivier grumbled at it. "Because that's what everyone wants. A leaf. I bet his life was complete when he got it..."

He put both books on the bedside table, then stretched out on the bed. "Knowing René, the poem is about how to drive your unwanted housemate insane, and he left it there purposely to taunt me with its cryptic message."

He gave a snort of amusement, then looked up at the ceiling and raised his voice, "It's working, René. Very well. Now come home so we can both enjoy the laugh, yeah?"

Considerate, silent ghost that he was, René made no reply.

Olivier sighed, and picked up the book of translations again, faced with the brick wall of his own fixation and the accusing, unhelpful cover.

"I will. I will have. I desire it. I want."

I want.

Olivier caught his breath, and flipped back to the index of first lines.

"I want, I want," he muttered. "René, you never fucking want anything, what –"

And then he spotted it…

I want to go with the one I love.

Quickly, his hands almost shaking for some inexplicable reason, he flipped through to the correct page.

I want to go with the one I love.
I do not want to calculate the cost.
I do not want to think about whether it's good.
I do not want to know whether he loves me.
I want to go with the one I love.

He froze, staring at the page for several long moments, reading and rereading the verse.

"God," he said at last, not sure if he was praying or cursing. "That's…"

Hopeless. It was hopeless was what it was, it was the poem of someone who had given up caring one way or the other what happened as long as he could be allowed proximity.

"So what, love's about giving up?" he demanded of the book. "I'm so glad I read this, it helps nothing at all…"

Oh? asked the voice he had been determinedly not listening to for so many weeks. Is that what it means? So you'd only want René back if he still loved you, if he wanted to see you, if he was prepared to pretend he only felt friendship and nothing more, if he played by what you want, would you?

"Shut up," he muttered, stupidly, but he couldn't pretend he hadn't thought it, however oddly he'd made his mind demand those questions of his outer emotions. Was that how he felt? Did he only want René back safe and sound on condition?


Love - whatever the fuck that meant - had nothing to do with it. Or maybe it had everything to do with it. Olivier had no idea which… but either way, he wanted René to come home. To be safe. To be…what?

How did he feel about the man? Friendly? Definitely. Infuriated? Frequently. He also respected him, although he knew that his last words to him didn't reflect that at all.

"God, I'm an idiot." He'd let all his words escape him like some kind of verbal brain vomit, soiling their friendship, possibly irreparably.

So… the voice asked again, what if René doesn't want to see you? What then?

"What then…?" That really was the question. He supposed he'd have to step back, give him room and hope for eventual forgiveness. Stepping back would be imperative, because René would not want to come between Olivier and their other friends, and damn it, friends would be exactly what the man needed. Olivier would not allow René to sacrifice anything for him. He didn't deserve it.

Except. Except. It wasn't that simple.

I want to go with the one I love.

If he stepped back, so would René – in the opposite direction, perhaps, but he would mimic almost exactly what Olivier was doing, because he wanted nothing more than to be with him, even if that meant only in spirit and action. Not because the man had any innate desire for self-sacrifice, though Olivier suspected that was part of his make-up in any case, but because René had chosen a side before Olivier had even begun to suspect there was one. He had stepped away from his partner, he had left his place in the Interior, he had let Kitty and Lissa in – Isa was a different matter, and Olivier knew it, because Isa had known what had happened probably before René had even analysed his own emotions what was going on, and refused to let it affect him – he had done everything Olivier had thought of as normal because he loved.

It was a completely overwhelming thought.

All René wanted was to know that Olivier existed. He didn't want that to be enough – it was enough. Even if he could only follow him with that strange, steel-tough, flexible mind, it was enough. It wasn't about physical desire, though he had no doubt René felt that, disturbing thought though it might be. It wasn't about an overwhelming enjoyment of his company above that of all others. It wasn't anything definable, but it was absolute. And Olivier knew he had to accept that before he considered anything else.

But could he? And could he do it with no pity attached to it? Not pity for the fact that René loved him, but pity for the fact that René loved him, someone whose closest brush with it was years of obsession.

I do not want to think about whether it's good.

No, he acknowledged with a wry twist of his heart. That wasn't René's style. Nothing was good or bad except thinking made it so – and if he refused to think about it as anything but a fact and not an ethic, it could be neither. Not good, not bad, not wrong, not right. Just a fact.

What must it be like, to confront the abyss of the mind and heart and soul and see plain truth rather than a monster stare back?

What if Olivier looked at the fact of René's love and stopped contemplating whether it was good or bad, right or wrong? What if he made that leap towards the absolute himself?

If he accepted that René loved him, then whether he agreed with that love or not, he had to accept it existed and would continue to exist, no matter what he did.

No matter what he said.

Sectionable. Freak.

I do not want to know if he loves me…

"I don't care if he loves me," he said slowly, trying the words out for size from the other side of the mirror, looking back out of the abyss as he had looked into it moments before. "Yeah. That works. I don't care. I don't care if he loves me or not. It's not important. But I care if he lives. I care if he comes home. I care about him. I don't care if…"

I don't care if he wants me like he wants the men he meets in clubs, he thought, and was surprised at his own – not indifference, but acceptance. I never did. It was always just one more piece of the enigma that is René d'Herblay…my friend. The man who knew me, at one meeting, better than I knew myself. The man who doesn't need to cheat at poker. The man who twitches when Isa hangs all over him, but lets him anyway. The man with the elegant pianist's fingers, long, slim and competent, whether turning a page or dealing the cards or inflicting his horrible idea of music on me and the world.

"Come home, René. Be safe, and come home. That's all you have to do…come home." And that time, when he said it, the words were almost a prayer. Then he grinned, at nothing and everything. "I owe you a punch in the nose, you bastard."


It is a time when one's spirit is subdued and sad, one knows not why; when the past seems a storm-swept desolation, life a vanity and a burden, and the future but a way to death.
- Mark Twain.


De Winter could not help René make his decision. If it hadn't been for the fact that he was now more worried about the fact someone was targeting agents than he was about whether Luzhin was brought in or not – the man would slip up sometime, he had pointed out to René, would somehow make himself an Interpol target even if they failed to bring him in this particular time – he would probably have tried to do more to stop du Plessis in his tracks. But with his men being picked off as soon as they entered the Roman underworld, René a possible target himself, and du Plessis's article only the end to one particular op, he was less concerned than René had hoped.

"It's on you," he said, sadly, as they finished up their meeting in the back room of a club. "René, I'm so sorry. I can't make this call. I can't be involved. It's too –"

"So the onus is on me to keep you all out of it as well?" René asked bitterly. "Oh, how amazing."

"You know that's how –"

"I know that you're cutting me loose as a liability whichever way I go," René said, "and I know you're doing it because of a journalist. Jesus Christ, de Winter –"

"You've been Keller too long," de Winter said coldly. "You're thinking like him. You're an agent, René, you know how this works. Whatever happens now, the op is compromised. But it's your choice whether you fall on the side of self-protection or take your own sword in your guts. I'm not going to tell you the right thing to do, because as far as I'm concerned and as far as the op goes, it's finished. You want to keep being Keller, you want to have Interpol after you as well, so be it, and I'll support you. But Rome is done. There's no choice to be made there."

"My own morality," René said, and laughed. "God, what a joke. You've twisted my judgement so far I can't see straight, and now you're asking me to make a moral call. My God..."

"So go to confession, see a priest, talk it out with a Sorbonne philosopher, call one of your old friends from Oxford and present it as a theory," de Winter snapped. "But your time's running out and mine with it. So make. Your. Choice."

He got to his feet, and started to walk out, before coming back and putting his hands on René's shoulders. "I'm your friend," he said quietly into René's ear. "I'll always be your friend. But that doesn't count for anything right now. I'm so sorry, d'Herblay. You're on your own."

René stayed very still, his face set in Keller's mask, until her heard the door shut. Then he leaned forward over the table, very slowly, and kept leaning until his face was pressed to the cool varnish of the wood.

"Oh God," he whispered. "Oh God..."

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me...

It was a long time before he raised his head, and when he did, his breathing was still shaken and harsh, rasping a little over his burning throat.

Then he got to his feet, and headed off out of the club – but not to follow de Winter.

He spent the night on his knees in a little church, looking at the hard, uncompromising image of the crucified Christ, thorns and blood and nails imprinting themselves on his brain and his eyes, and mouthing prayers that only served to keep his brain running in the same fearful tracks.

Take this cup from me...

Let him deliver him, if he delight in him....

Oh God help me. God help me.

Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa....

...the things we have done and the things we ought to have done...

When he finally got up from his aching position, he knew what he had to do.

And in the rose-gold light of a Roman dawn, he made the call.

"Yes. Run the alternative. Head it with my name."

Hans Keller was about to die. Hans Keller, who looked different enough from René d'Herblay that the two would never be connected if seen, would have to die.

It was the only condition that René would set – and the only one he knew could be agreed upon.

"De Winter," he said as his one phone call was answered. "I've made my choice. But I have a price too..."

I wear the cowl.

He laid it out. He would resign from the Interior, admit to all his undercover work, even give details to corroborate du Plessis's report on the operation in Rome.

I am not the monk.

But Hans Keller would never be an option for who he was suspected of having played. He would be someone René had met, someone he had associated with, someone he had helped – he would even say he had liked the man, if he had to.

There was one condition.

He would kill Hans Keller himself. That was the one part of his reputation. If Luzhin wanted to send men after him, it would be because he was responsible for the death of his stable-runner, and for no other cause. René d'Herblay might be turning traitor, but the Interior and Interpol still needed the reputation of Hans Keller intact.

It was his one concession to what would be his past.

De Winter and his men were at the hotel within two hours, the gunshots heard, the photographs taken, and du Plessis on the scene to confirm it all, as René was shipped out to the Roman police morgue in a black body bag, trying hard not to breathe in the stale, plastic air, and wondering how he had ever thought this to be a workable idea.

De Winter's face, as the bag was unzipped, bending over him and filled with pride and worry and very real gratitude, was his answer, and more than he had ever hoped for.

"René," he said in relief, and René winced out a smile.

"I am indeed..."

"Right," said du Plessis as he sat up, swinging his legs clear and wanting nothing but a shower and a haircut and clean clothes that were his own, "I've paid your fee. Now give me my story."

René smiled, and put his thumbs to his eyes, sliding out the grey contacts. He blinked, twice, and saw the world without their screen for the first time in days. It did not appear to have improved.

"My pleasure," he said sourly. "I'm yours to soon as I have myself back."

The irritated look on du Plessis's face was almost - almost - worth it, but not for long. As though afraid René would go back on his agreement and vanish as soon as he was out of du Plessis' sight, the journalist insisted on being with him while he showered, not even concealing his appraising looks at René's naked body under the too-hot water; hovered while his bleached hair was cut off in what amounted to a buzz cut; and did not even look away when, to his shame, he could not stop the single, strangled sob that escaped him when de Winter gave him a bag with his own clothes in.

"So, how did it feel to kill Hans Keller?" du Plessis asked as he finished getting changed and slipped on the jacket, and René turned from the mirror in astonishment to see the oddest understanding he had ever encountered in the journalist's eyes.

"It's the most difficult thing I've ever done," he said honestly, and du Plessis grinned.

"Well," he said. "I'll give you this much, d'Herblay. You're a damn good soundbite maker."

"And I was a very good agent," René agreed.

Du Plessis switched on his little recorder, and placed it between them on the table as René sat down.

"Yes," he said simply. "You were."


It was amazing how long a weekend could seem when you had nothing in particular planned. Olivier had fixed breakfast, eaten it, cleaned up after it. He'd made his bed, done laundry and even a bit of ironing. He'd checked his email, paid bills, and sorted through a week's worth of unread postal mail. It was ten in the morning and he had absolutely nothing to do. If it hadn't been raining as though God had decided today was the day for the Second Deluge and neglected to inform anyone at all, this time around, that an ark was necessary, he probably would have gone on a run to the park or possibly puttered around in the garden – or more likely pretended to putter around in the garden and in fact stared at it hopelessly while he wondered just how anyone could tell what was supposed to be growing and what should be stopped - but any kind of escape from the house was denied him, unless he wanted to go and sit in his car until the bars opened, which didn't really seem all that attractive a proposition. He was just about to see if René's library had something to hold his interest when his mobile rang.

He looked at the caller identification and groaned. Yes, happy Sunday, it was Claire.

"Good morning. You've reached the de la Fère Blood Bank. If you're a vampire, press one. Lawyers and ex-wives have currently sucked out all the blood they're going to get and should now hang up."

"Very funny, Olivier."

"I thought it was."

"I called to see if you wanted to meet me for lunch. I have some paperwork that we really should go over together. I don't think it needs to go through the lawyer, it's very simple."

Now that was an original idea, and Olivier was sure, an outright lie. He couldn't think of a single item that they shared that Claire had not fought him over, and for her to suddenly suggest that there was seemed very suspicious.

"I really don't think that's a good idea, Claire. Especially after what happened the last time we…spoke in person."

"I thought you enjoyed our little…conversation." There was a pout in her voice, one Olivier was certain was as false as her request.

"Enjoyed or not, it's something that can't be repeated, Claire. You know that as well as I do."

There was an irate huff from the other end of the line, "And just why is that, Olivier?"

"You know why."

"No. I know how much you enjoyed it. I know how much I enjoyed it." Her voice had lowered to a dangerous sounding purr. "Why would you---?"

There was a sudden silence from the other end of the line, and Olivier thought for a moment they had been disconnected, but there was no dialling tone, no purr of a dead line, only the sound of someone carefully not breathing. When she spoke, her voice was utterly dead, frighteningly devoid of emotion in a way he had heard her use to others, but never before to him – her last means of concealing her thoughts when she was truly angry or disturbed. He knew that, now, to be the Interior's training, but it made it no less unnerving to hear it turned upon him over a simple refusal. "Oh my God," she said at last, and he could have sworn that the words, if not the tone, had escaped her involuntarily. "You're waiting for him to get back. I don't believe it."

"What?" Olivier's mind suddenly spun over what she said - Waiting for him to come back. What did she think she was -

"It's ridiculous. Completely and utterly ridiculous. Do you have any idea what he's doing over there? Do you have any idea what he – Christ, Olivier, how could you stand to even touch him, let alone think of letting him touch you?"

"I think you've said enough," Olivier growled into the phone.

"He'll never satisfy you," Claire's voice had become venomous, and Olivier, oddly enough, knew that she had regained control, had emerged from her self-induced shock enough to fight, and was almost relieved at the sharpening anger in her voice, "not the way I can. Oh, he's nice enough…has plenty of stamina, as I well know… but no fire, no passion. How can you think of fucking a block of wood – God, wood's got more emotion to it – how can you think of fucking anything like Re -?"

"Claire!" Olivier cut her off. "That's enough. You're talking about someone I have a lot of respect for. Far more, I must say, than I have for you at this moment."

"Fine," Claire bit out. "Just fine, Olivier. I always wondered what it took to really – well. Never mind. You keep your little…bum-boy. And when you get tired of him, I'll send you a blow-up doll. It would certainly show you more affection."

This time it was Olivier who disconnected the call by the simple expedient of turning off his mobile.

"Stupid fucking bitch…" he muttered.

He'd had enough of listening to her, enough of analyzing her every change in voice and tone, enough of scrutinizing both their actions in the hope of finding something redeeming in one of them, at least. There wasn't going to be anything to find on this new topic. How could she talk that way about René? The man had been her partner for years. She, and to a lesser extent Olivier himself, had trusted René to watch her back, to keep her safe, and he'd done a damn fine job of it too, even taking a bullet for her when he must have been at the lowest ebb of his trust in her, when no-one could have blamed him for choosing not to move and letting her bear whatever the consequences would have been. It made Olivier feel like kicking something or someone, preferably Claire.

He shook his head. He supposed that wasn't really surprising that Claire knew so little about René, after such a long association. She didn't really know him either, and they had lived together, supposedly loved each other, apparently worked through both their absences and kept their marriage alive despite it all, for more than seven years.

Even as much as René kept hidden, Olivier knew her jabs about his unfeeling nature were just completely untrue. No man could be moved by music and poetry the way René was – and he was, Olivier knew, even though he probably thought he had kept it as hidden as well as he had done everything else, he was touched in that secret part of him, involuntary and unbidden – without having some very strong feelings.

I want to go with the one I love.
I do not want to calculate the cost.
I do not want to think about whether it's good.
I do not want to know whether he loves me.
I want to go with the one I love.

No. He had reason right there to know that René held within him far deeper feelings than Claire would ever experience or understand. The love René felt for him was simple and honest, asking for nothing except to be with him, and it made him feel warmed through, strangely secured, just to think about it. The mere idea of Claire's selfishness competing with that was ludicrous.

Actually, Olivier suddenly realized, his foremost feeling when he thought about René loving him was…pride. The thought that René thought he was worthy of love made him almost ache inside with pleasure. And, far from being insulted that Claire had assumed they were lovers, he felt a calm acceptance…as if it was only fact that kept it from being true. No astonishment at the idea, no misgivings, just…a sudden wave of loneliness and a surprising rush of desire that made him sit down, his knees going weak as though with spent adrenaline, the effect of his body's response half-devastating to his mind and emotions.

He desired René…loved him even. Or so he tentatively named the feeling he was experiencing. It was so different from what he'd felt for Claire, that he hesitated to name it by the same word. He felt no driving urge to own René, body and soul, the way he had with Claire. Rather, in spite of the desire, he felt just a kind of easy longing for him, for his presence, for his caustic observations and gently mocking company – a desire to be with him rather than to possess him, the feeling rather enhancing than consuming him, something that seemed to have been in him for a long while without intruding, like a night-banked fire, building slowly into flame when touched to waking.

His self-understanding, however, felt a bit drowned in the next moment when he considered what René's reaction to this revelation would be. The least objectionable response would be disbelief, followed remorselessly by the idea that Olivier was mistaken or insane, and then by the idea that René might actually become angry, thinking that Olivier was pitying him.

Olivier groaned. This was not going to be easy. He foresaw long months of wooing Monsieur d'Herblay, once he came home.

If he comes home.

The sudden idea of that possibility kicked Olivier in the head with the same force that Claire had used with her phone. It was an unthinkable thought and Olivier suddenly wished he had more faith, so that he could pray to God for René's safety.

René would come home. Olivier would accept no other conclusion. He would show René how he felt, slowly, and then?

It didn't matter. Whether René accepted it or not, it was true, and if René was prepared to love Olivier silently and without expectations, could Olivier do less?

It was all just a waiting game now. He knew that he was more than happy to start playing it.


Isa had no idea what Olivier had been doing over his weekend off, but whatever it was, even if had just been sleep, he was grateful for it. He had his friend back, instead of the odd, withdrawn, brooding automaton that had taken Olivier's place since the night René broke his nose, and work had suddenly become bearable again.

None of them dared to comment on it, in case it reversed the process, but even de Treville seemed less fraught, and Dufay kept shooting him glances of outright gratitude that he rather wished he deserved. They even tried out a haphazard kind of Team Night, Bonacieux playing host with his usual generosity and the whole thing ending up in a sleepy drunkenness that led to a hopeful lack of embarrassment the next day – only Olivier having much memory of the last couple of hours and lying his rotten tongue out of his mouth with glee as a result.

Even with the unsolved case hanging over them like a damp shroud, Isa could live with things as they were – so it stood to reason that it didn't last.

Lissa, getting up for her five a.m. shift, picked up the paper from their doormat, scanned the headline, and yelled Isa's name in a voice he never wanted to hear from her again as long as he lived.

"What?! What?! Are you okay? Did you hurt yourself? Is it a snake? What's wrong?" He had charged out of the bedroom in only his pants, having grabbed his gun and holster on the way. He had been just bleary enough to think that, if it was a snake, he'd shoot it.

"God, Isa… it's René…"

The words punched into him like a fist and he grabbed the paper from her hand.

He didn't know what he had been expecting, or even if he had really been consciously thinking of anything but death, but the headline was so far from all of it that the words made no sense to him at first.

Invisible Worm: Inside Man.

"Du Plessis," he hissed as he read the by-line. "That fucking little toad, I'll kill him with my bare hands..."

Lissa grabbed the paper back off him. "Helpful," she snapped, back in control even if her hands were shaking so badly that she was having difficulty holding the paper still enough to read. "That's really – what? No, that – this –"

"What?" Isa demanded. "What? You tell me why I shouldn't –"

"He's been – René – "

"René what?" Isa almost howled.

"René shot Hans Keller on Wednesday morning," Lissa said blankly, and gave him back the paper. "And du Plessis got the story."

"But that's---" Impossible? Was that the word he had been about to use in conjunction with any of the dealings of the Interior? "God, I've got to call Olivier, warn him… see if he's heard from his contact."

He punched the number in, listened to it ring… and ring… and go to voice mail. "Fuck…"

Yeah, he'd forgotten that Olivier had been turning his phone off at night to keep Claire from harassing him and interrupting what little sleep he'd been getting. "Olivier… I just saw the newspaper. Call me."

Lissa stared at him. "They employ people like you to break news to relatives, don't they?" she asked, sounding a bit stunned.

"Not if they can help it," Isa said with sour amusement. "Yeah, I know. I suck. But fucking hell, what am I supposed to-"

"Tell me how, for a start," Lissa said a bit desperately. "I thought René was – I thought you said he was Hans Keller, how can he have killed him, why is du Plessis – I don't get it!"

"I don't either… but…" Isa shook his head, looking back at the article, "the rest of this is crap as well. Some of the stuff he's accusing René of-- Well, you know him, Lissa. Do you think him capable of any of this?"

"Capable?" She frowned. "I think René quite capable of doing anything that needed doing, if there were a good enough reason, but do I think he's somehow… corrupt? Not on your life."

"No," Isa said slowly, "but I'll bet you anything the Interior can be, and without even a second's thought...oh, shit. Shit, shit, shit, the stupid fucking man's playing the sacrificial lamb, isn't he? Give du Plessis what he wants on a plate and then he'll leave the rest of them alone..."

"That makes no sense either, who's he protecting –"

"Everyone," Isa said grimly, and tried René's house on his mobile. "Everyone he's ever met. He warned us du Plessis was good at blackmail...oh, come on, Olivier!" The phone was engaged, which meant it was off the hook. "You stupid fucking –"

"Hey." Lissa took the phone out of his hand, and disconnected the call. "It's five in the morning. He's allowed to sleep..."

"Not when we're on a case he isn't," Isa growled, still reading the paper. "Keller's intimate friend? Keller's intimate friend? Who the hell does he think he's kidding?"

"Probably just about everyone… except us," Lissa shook her head.

The phone rang and Isa grabbed it back out of Lissa's hand, "Du Vallon…Oh, Kitty… Yes, we were just readi – no, I haven't been able to get hold of him yet. What do I think it means? It means René's coming the fuck home and he's safe. The rest is bullshit."

"Isa." Kitty sounded completely fed up. "I know it's bullshit. I don't care what it says. I want to know when he's going to be back so I can go ride herd on Olivier."

It was so completely nonsensical that Isa took the phone away from his ear and stared at it. "What?" he asked it, and then put it back to his ear in a hurry.

"You want Olivier, the press and René in one place first thing?" Kitty demanded, and then, at his horrified silence while his mind tried to cope with that particular imagery, "No, I didn't think so. So find out when he's getting in, go meet him, and the rest..."

"Yeah… yeah…" Although, fuck knew how he'd manage that. Just check for likely flights and watch for where the media circus accumulated? That, at least, had a kind of beautiful irony. "I'll take care of that. You call the Captain… let him know what's going on. Then go sit on Olivier."

Because God alone knew, that's what it would take.

Kitty laughed, the sound brittle and without humour. "Right," she agreed. "I get all the fun jobs, don't I? Bye, Isa."

The dial tone was burring in his ear before he was even sure what he'd said wrong, and then he was thinking - oh, shit, because he had just treated Kitty the way all the uniformed officers did, as a kind of low-grade secretary with no skills of her own, and Lissa was looking at him with a great deal of deserved irritation.

"You know I love you," she said slowly, "but Isa –"

"I'm a world-class dick," Isa agreed. "Cut me some slack, would you? I didn't have the best wakeup call of my life just now..."

"Neither did Kitty." Lissa just folded her arms, then nodded toward Isa's mobile, "You've another call."

"Crap. It was Olivier and I missed it." He listened to the message.

"Isa…" Olivier's voice was thick, sleep heavy. "I… de Winter called. René's coming home. It's-- Something happened. René's okay but…I think it's bad, Isa. I guess you know because you tried to call me. I-- fuck. Just call me, okay?"

Isa pressed the end button, held his hand over Lissa's opening mouth, so that she looked at him enquiringly and gave his palm a tentative little nip, as though asking whether she really needed to bite him or if he meant it, and subsided immediately as he shook his head, listening to Olivier's message again.

"I think it's bad, Isa. I guess you know because you tried to call me."

Isa scowled thoughtfully into the middle distance, then disconnected again and made his call.

"Kitty? Isa. I'll call the captain. Just get to Olivier's – René's – fuck, just get over there now, would you?"

"Huh?" Kitty asked intelligently around the sound of an electric toothbrush.

"Kitty. Darling. Light of my life. What does Olivier do when he's panicking?"

The toothbrush shut off. "Do a bunk," Kitty said rather messily. "Fuck. Ok, 'm gone. Fanks."

Isa lowered his hand from Lissa's increasingly snappish mouth and ran his thumbnail over his teeth.

"What on earth?" Lissa demanded.

"Yeah, don't worry," Isa said. "Just – Olivier-control, like pests."


Isa shook his head, and speed-dialled Olivier.

"Yeah, sorry," he said without real apology. "You read the article?"

She nodded, and sighed a little. He finally noticed that she was standing in their hallway wearing as much as he was – being in her case a pair of bright pink cotton knickers and nothing else - and felt a bit guilty for noticing even while he considered whether it would be worth the slap to reach out and run a hand over one of her breasts. "Yes, Isa," she said, faint exasperation with him overlaid by more pressing worry over what was happening, "that would be how I knew about Keller."

The name definitely killed any kind of incipient, badly-timed mood. "This is going to ruin René. Lissa, I don't –" He stopped as the phone was picked up. "Olivier. It's Isa. What did de Winter tell you? Because whatever happened, the press is having a field day. Or about to. Or a collective orgasm, or – fuck, I should have just killed that little shit du Plessis while we had him in the bar..."

"Not much," Olivier's voice sounded more awake now, but just as rough. "Just that René's cover was blown and he… Fuck, Isa… they're letting him take the fall. De Winter didn't say it in so many words, but I'm sure that's want it will amount to. How the hell can they do that? He's so bloody good at what he does…"

"Yeah, which is why," Isa said, feeling rather as if he were being pummelled on the inside of his skull by Olivier's curt speech. "I mean. It's why he's doing it. Plus, you know. Keller's dead."

"Keller's –" There was sudden silence. "Keller's dead," Olivier repeated, scornfully. "Except for where –"

"Olivier, shut the fuck up right now and listen to me!" Isa shouted. Lissa put her hand out and took his, and he held on, hard. "Keller is dead. Okay? René killed him. René killed Hans Keller. He might be resigning, he might be disgraced, but he killed Hans Keller."

Please get it. I don't trust the phone lines. I don't trust anything right now, Olivier, so please, please, please understand what I'm saying.

Lissa had. He could see it in her eyes, the dawning realisation of just what René had done, what he had managed to salvage, what he was going to be able to take away from this. Whatever du Plessis spun the story into, René had killed the man who was bringing human trafficking back to the fore, and no-one was going to be able to ignore that fact, no matter how du Plessis dressed it up into hideousness.

"It had to be justified." Olivier growled out. It said so much, those few words, and yet perfectly safe, showing only Olivier's support of his friend to any listeners.

Thank God.

"Look, Olivier, you just stay there, okay? I'll square it with the Captain. Kitty's on her way over and… Christ. Do something constructive… or something… like make that place decent enough for René to live in." That would give him something to think about at least.

"Yeah…" Olivier gave a short, sharp laugh. "I'll do that. It might take a small bomb, but I'll try."

"Okay." Isa breathed out in relief. "Okay. Good. Look, I'm gonna phone de Treville –"

"Phone Connie," Olivier said, suddenly sharp. "Let her do it, we can handle the fallout. Just – he'll be on the nine o'clock. Christ's sake, Isa, just go and –"

Be there for him. Olivier didn't even have to finish the sentence.

"Yeah," Isa said. "Yeah."

He hung up the phone, then looked at Lissa, "René's coming in on the nine o'clock from Rome. Olivier says I need to call Connie and let her explain to her father about what's going on. Christ, I need to grab a shower and get dressed…get out of here before--"

Lissa put her hand over his mouth, "I'll call Connie….You get in the shower and I'll have coffee ready for you by the time you get back."

Isa chuckled and kissed the palm of Lissa's hand, "I knew there was a reason I kept you around… you're completely awesome."

"I always have been."

Isa laughed, leant in for a quick kiss, tasting toothpaste and the remnants of sleep, and let her push him away.

"Shower," she said firmly.

He restrained himself from saluting.


Terminal two of Charles de Gaulle Airport was large and airy, as such places go, but it was also noisy and echoing and overcrowded in the most unpleasant ways That was why he was waiting outside, rather than inside… well, that and the overabundance of the press.

Isa, remembering what he had first said of René – "Well, he's the perfect sheet of blank paper, isn't he?" – wondered if they would even recognise him when he came through security.

If the op had gone well – or at least as it had been supposed to – he supposed René would have been given straight clearance, backup, and the luxury of a back door.

But no-one wanted responsibility for a man the Interior had disavowed, whether their actions were official yet or not, and René was set to run the gauntlet without any protection.

He was there to make sure that didn't happen… and if he ran over a few reporters along the way, so much the better.

Of course, it appeared that the scions of the press had been staking out the place for quite some time. So long, in fact, that they were beyond bored with waiting. He saw several grouped together, having a smoke, while others drank coffee or ate, made phone calls, worked crossword puzzles. That was good. With any luck they wouldn't actually recognize René at all and he'd have him out and to the car before there was any trouble.

But life didn't work like that, as Isa should have known, and he was forced to watch through the glass doors as René, without any of the protection normally accorded a footballer or actor, moved down the corridor, his close-cropped head bent and down so that it looked like a gilt-fuzzed crown under the hard lights, a single bag in his hand and his eyes shaded by his usual rimless, light-reflective glasses.

Someone obviously said something, because René stopped, his head coming up, and Isa watched as the deceptively thin shoulders straightened beneath the fine suit jacket, suddenly turning the semi-casual outfit into armour, and René, framed in flashlights and the black of microphones, spoke inaudibly and briefly to the group surrounding him, nodded once, and turned back towards the exit, his bag swung over his shoulder like a barrier against the eyes of the world, his bent arm half-hiding his face.

It was painful to watch for any feeling person, but the press corps were not known for their feeling. They dogged his steps right to the exit, and then tried to block him from leaving.

"You may as well let me go." Isa could hear the controlled fury behind the calm words. "I'm not giving you anything else."

"How much did du Plessis pay you to say that?" someone shouted, and Isa saw raw anger in René's hollow face, before the barriers came up again and he pushed through the doors.

Isa moved forward, placing one hand on René's shoulder to get his attention and then almost regretted it as the man turned with a snarl, "Don't! Don't touch m – Isa?"

Isa saw the gaze soften for a moment before mental walls slammed down so hard that he could almost hear the clang. "What are you doing here?"

"Come to give you a lift," Isa said with a shrug. "Cause, you know. Taxi drivers might be recording you or something, you never can be sure, and I –" He couldn't do it. He couldn't play it out like this. "Fuck, super-spook, what've you been doing to yourself?" he asked, looking at dark shadows and red lines and utter, pallid exhaustion beneath all the marks, and, damning all consequences or possible retribution waiting for the unwary, pulled René into his arms and held on.

"Isa… off… off…" René's voice was desperate, but he wasn't pushing at Isa or anything, so Isa ignored him for a few more moments.

"Please…" René hissed softly. "Much more and I'll lose complete control right here."

"Yeah, okay," Isa agreed. Not that he thought it would be particularly bad if René did, but he could quite see that a point in your life when you had the cameras of France trained on you wasn't exactly the ideal time to discover inner feelings. "Come on, get in the car."

He took René's bags and put them in the trunk, shoving roughly past several of the more vigorous photographers to do it.

"We're leaving when I get back in the car," Isa announced blithely. "If any of you are standing in front of the car, I'll be quite happy to fill out the accident reports….after you're carted off to the hospital."

They didn't move much, but at least they let René move around the car and get in.

"So whose legs am I aiming for?" Isa asked cheerfully.

"All of them," René said with a little choke of laughter. "Feel free to choose."

Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, Isa's scowl convinced them that he was, indeed, serious and when the engine started the mass of reporters parted like the Red Sea. He cackled wickedly and honked his horn at one of the stragglers as he pulled away.

"Welcome home, Monsieur d'Herblay." he quipped, "But do you always feel the need to make such an entrance?"

"Not sure," René said. "I've never had one of them before. Think I should make a habit of it?"

Du Plessis' face stared at them from the newsstands as they drove along the back streets, and Isa winced.

"Er, not really," he said. "I mean, not that I don't think you needed to get out a bit more, but this is a bit all or nothing, isn't it?"

René's laugh was a bit strained, but Isa counted it as a plus that he laughed at all. "Look, you just have a rest, which I'm sure you need, and I won't ask the four hundred and twenty-three questions that I have until later when you've got a drink in your hand. Deal?"

"Mmn," René agreed, sounding subdued. He was staring out of his window, face hidden from Isa by the back of his averted head, and from any passer-by with his cupped hand.

"Does that mean drink before rest and I can ask anything I like?" Isa asked too brightly, and René's head moved once in negation.

"No," he said harshly, and his whole back moved with his next breath, though his voice was back to normal when he next spoke. "Take me to my offices, please, Isa."

"Wha' -?"

"I have to make my resignation formal," René said in the same subdued voice, and Isa, briefly, wished anyone but him were making this drive.

"That can wait –"

"No." René turned to face him, and the stark despair in his drawn face made Isa want to scream. "No, this time it can't. Please, Isa. Let me be finished. I can't breathe till I –"

"Okay," Isa said quickly. "Okay."

So he drove René to the Interior building, and walked with him from the car to ensure that no lurking photographers made pests of themselves. It was insanity and, he was fairly certain, cruelty of the worst sort. If it weren't for the fact that René was perpetrating it on himself, Isa would be complaining loudly and forcefully. Instead, he was silent and scowling, following René like an overly watchful wolfhound, ready to attack.

He hovered in the main area, glaring at everyone and willing some agent to make a remark that would justify being thumped. No-one did. The Interior was not the Sûreté – even though they must have all known what René had done, there was to be no open commentary on his actions.

"How long does it take to fucking resign?" Isa demanded of the world.

The world stayed ominously unresponsive.


Olivier really hadn't known whether he should be glad that Kitty was on her way over to keep him company or not. He needed a distraction, surely, and housework, no matter how intensive or extensive, was not going to do it. Kitty was always distracting, even if it was frequently in ways that infuriated and annoyed him.

On the other hand, it also made him feel like a twelve year old, or a bad security risk, bound to try for escape if not watched constantly. True, when de Winter had told him that René was on the way home, he had considered disappearing for awhile…just to put one less burden on René. But then… the more he thought about it the more he figured that would make it seem like he agreed with all the shit that du Plessis had written, and nothing could be farther from the truth.

In the end, he had opted for complete selfishness, because at the bottom of it all, he would not rest until he saw René with his own eyes and knew he was safe and home. Although, if he were honest, he wasn't sure if he was ready to wonder why that was true.

Kitty, though, was at her surprising best, despite being dressed in a t-shirt with toothpaste dribbles down the front and a pair of jeans that looked, if inspected closely, rather less like denim and more like cotton pyjamas.

"New thing," she explained when Olivier asked her. "Cause, you know. The supermarkets? They won't let you in now if you have something on that looks like you slept in it. So these are an ideal compromise. Look like jeans and you can go to bed in them."

"Oh," Olivier said a bit blankly, and let her get on with what she was doing, which apparently involved stripping René's perfectly unslept-in bed and putting all the bedclothes in for a thorough wash. "Er, Kitty? I promise I haven't –"

She rolled her eyes at him. "Yeah, but nor has anyone else and nor is the room aired, and honestly, Olivier, do you really think someone wants to go to sleep in a bed that hasn't been even touched for months? Dust. Dust baaaad.." She grinned at him.

"Ah…" Well, that wasn't exactly something he'd ever thought about really, but it sounded sensible enough. "Same for the bathroom towels, yeah?"

"Right." And she went off to grab those too, after directing Olivier to, "For God's sake open the windows."

"Um," Olivier said hopefully to the room, and went to wrestle with what looked like a perfectly simple latch and had apparently been designed by a committee of Satan and all his minions. By the time he finally got the top window to crack open, his entire back was damp with sweat and he felt as though he'd been doing a workout.

"Ooh!" Kitty's voice drifted up from the living room. "Come look! René's on the news..."

The other window, thank God, he thought uncharitably, would have to wait.

Olivier practically ran to the living room, just in time to see the screen flip from the news anchor to a live film. He unconsciously leaned toward the screen, as if that would make his view better. And then, there he was, René d'Herblay. Although for a moment Olivier wasn't sure. René's hair was so short, taking away any sign of softness from his face, and he looked so haggard that it made Olivier's heart ache in sympathy.

"What? What did they say?" He asked suddenly. His attention had been so involved in looking at René, that he hadn't been listening to the report.

"Pfft." Kitty shrugged at it, scornful and small and angry, and the ache in Olivier's heart intensified. René had never made any secret of his admiration for Kitty's odd brilliance, and she had genuinely responded to him, without false flirtation or her usual girlishness, talking to him about old law and historical cases without fear of showing how much she knew. Watching him look like a shaved penitent must be as bad for her as it was for him. "Who else has he killed, how much did du Plessis pay him, did he sell out before –" She snarled, turning away from the screen and unnecessarily straightening the sofa cushions. "Stupid fuckers," she muttered.

Olivier nodded his agreement and turned back to the screen, but the film was apparently over and they'd moved on to some kind of fluff piece about pre-schoolers at a petting zoo. He didn't know if he wanted to turn the television off… or leave it on in case they showed something else. He finally compromised by turning the sound up and going back to the bed room to wrestle the other window open.

"I want a drink," he grumbled as he came downstairs. It wasn't quite noon, but he felt as though he had already lived through three days. The television was playing a smug-looking du Plessis, talking about his 'daring achievement' in Rome.

"I'll make coffee," Kitty offered, glaring at the screen.

"No, I want –"

"Yeah, I know, so do I," Kitty agreed. "But we're not going to be capable of helping if we're ratted, are we? Well. I'm not. I'll just snot all over him or something, and he's got enough to put up with, considering. What with the haircut from hell and Isa..."

'Yeah…" Olivier nodded slowly. "He looks so tired, Kitty. So…defeated. That's… that's just wrong. You know? I doubt that René has ever allowed anything to defeat him."

"It still hasn't." Kitty said with obvious belief before she went towards the kitchen. "And don't you dare give him any idea that he is."

"Not my style," Olivier agreed. It wasn't. He wouldn't. But –

I want to go with the one I love...

Had René already defeated himself?

No… he refused to believe that because…What had Isa said? "It's not all about you." And it wasn't, was it? There was a lot going on and that was just one more facet. And hopefully a facet that helped rather than hindered.

He was almost relieved when his phone rang, even though the fact it was Isa's name flashing up at him could mean nothing good.

"Hey," he said in greeting.

"Yeah, hi." Isa sounded odd, as though he were talking into a metal tube. "Sorry, I'm – we're under the bypass –"

"What?" Olivier met Kitty's querying look as she popped her head round the door, and shrugged helplessly. He had no idea why Isa was under the bypass or why he had felt it necessary to tell Olivier, but he had the gut feeling it couldn't be anything good.

"Never mind, it's not – look, René just resigned and we're shaking the press off, so –" Isa didn't sound like he was in any hurry to finish the sentence, the last word trailing upwards hopefully, waiting for Olivier to fill in for him. As always, Olivier thought nastily, and then wanted to smack himself for even thinking that way.

"You're nearly back?" he broke in, translating Isa-speak into 'here is your five-second warning', rather than 'I am phoning you up to ramble pointlessly' and stopping his unkind thought processes at the same time.

"Yeah," Isa agreed. "Ok, gotta go. Talk in a few."

"Got to go where?" Olivier demanded of the dial tone. "Got to go why? Got to – Isa, why are you so useless....?"

There really wasn't any answer to that.



There were very few times in Olivier de la Fère's life when he could say he had actually felt a sense of panic. Once had been when he was in the service and had to go out of a helicopter on a drop line at night. The thought of leaving the security of the aircraft to willingly throw himself into the darkness, not knowing where the earth actually began and the sky ended had left him panting in fear all the way down.

Right now, he felt the same, as though he had stepped out into the darkness, not knowing when or if he'd hit bottom, and what would be waiting for him when he did.

If it weren't for the fact of Kitty, rushing him around to finish up the last of what she called "bare minimum' cleaning, he probably would have hidden himself away and hoped that no one would notice.

And the only thing the television seemed willing to show was René's arrival at the airport, even though Isa had been talking about the Interior buildings and the bypass and shaking the press off, and Olivier realised that he was far, far too reliant on information being given to him in an orderly and sensible way. It was as though René had walked out of those glass doors and right off the face of the earth, which was a) impossible, unless Isa had been lying, and b) unlikely, since Isa had definitely been under the bypass and what would the point have been to him being under the bypass unless he had been doing what he said, and –

"I hate my brain," he said to Kitty as she went past with an armful of old newspapers. "No, don't throw those out, they're part of the case!"

"They've got du Plessis's name on them," Kitty said stubbornly, hugging the papers to her. "I don't want –"

"Kitty. You cannot remove all traces of du Plessis from the planet. Or make René forget he exists. Or pretend you don't know he exists. Now put the newspapers back."

"Fine!" She took the papers back to the living room, put them in a file box and closed the lid.

"Has the washer finished? I'll go make the bed, hang up some towels and put out some clean clothes…" and find that damn sweater. It had to be there some place and he was certain that René would want a shower first thing…

Kitty re-emerged to give him a long and very pitying look.

"Done it, done it, and whatever it is you think you need to do, you better go and do it, because Isa's using Twitter again to tell the world what his driving's like."


"Bumper sticker on a lorry told him to," Kitty said, as though that was any sort of an explanation.


"It's Isa," Kitty pointed out, as her phone beeped again. "Ooh. Traffic jam. On the main road. Which gives you about three minutes to do or undo whatever it is you need to." Her smile was not reassuring.

"Right…" He turned and made a mad dash for the stairs and René's room, looking through the closet until he found the sweater, shoved to the rear and hidden behind a grey suit. He carefully shook it out and lay it over the foot of the bed, along with some soft looking jeans that he'd seen René wear after having a stressful day.

"Christ… the Brecht…" He charged down the hallway to get René's book, wanting to put it back in the shelf. He wasn't sure why he didn't want René to know he'd seen it, but somehow it suddenly seemed too intimate, too personal.

His mind was spinning and that darkness was beneath his feet once more. Should he have pulled out the sweater? Suddenly it all seemed so very wrong… like an invasion of René's privacy.

For God's sake, he didn't even know if René actually wore the damn sweater or just kept it as a reminder of someone who'd died, or kept it to remind him that there were people out there who could knit – or, actually, couldn't knit, but the principle was the same – or just thought it looked good over the back of a chair, or had it as a personal reminder that there were some things no-one, ever, should wear. What it amounted to was that he didn't have a clue what he was doing, and was probably never going to be told if he was getting it right or should just give up and never try again.

He shoved the Brecht back into the bookcase, and glared at it as though it were personally responsible for everything.

"Olivier… they're here." Kitty's voice called from downstairs.

"Shit!" He grabbed the sweater and looked around frantically, finally draping it over the back of the chair where he had first seen it so many months ago.

"Olivier! Hurry up!" Kitty called again.

"Yes, yes, yes," he grumbled, and took the stairs two at a time, landing a little awkwardly in the hallway as the door opened.

"...and you're completely sure we're not going to have the press here, right?" Isa was saying.

"Yes." Olivier wondered how often René had made that reassurance. Forty at least, if his tone of voice was anything to go by. "I'm not completely bloody useless – oh. Hello."

"Hi," Olivier said, rather uselessly. "You look awful."

"Thanks," René said a bit dryly. "What are you, the welcoming committee?"

"No, that's Kitty, who's....probably feeding the washing machine my paperwork," Olivier said, wondering where she was, and why she had decided now was an ideal moment to do a vanishing act. "Oh yeah. I owe you something."

"You what?" René asked a bit hopelessly, staring at him, and Olivier stepped forward, pulled his arm back, and punched him in the nose. René staggered back against the wall, and sat down hard on the floor.

"Olivier!" Kitty yelled in outrage down the hallway, sounding like his mother.

"What the fuck?" René demanded from under his hands.

"That was for believing I meant a single fucking word of what I said in the kitchen," Olivier said, shaking his hand out. It hurt more than when he'd punched the wall. "Also, ow."

There was dead silence for all of three awful seconds, then it was broken by short, sharp wheezes of laughter, and René's voice, "Well, I can honestly say this is the most interesting welcome I've ever received… and also the most painful."

Olivier passed him his handkerchief and then offered him a hand up, "It is. You've got a horridly hard head."

In more ways than one.

René snorted painfully, and winced. "Not that hard, apparently," he pointed out, mopping rather pointlessly at his face. "Urgh. Was that entirely necessary?"

"Yes," Olivier said simply, and amusement danced in René's contact-free eyes like evil corpse-lights.

"What the hell is wrong with you two?" Kitty asked hopelessly. "René, do you want ice?"

"Only if it's in vodka," René said, still around the handkerchief. "Or – well, anything that isn't scotch, really."

"I made coffee," Kitty said rather primly. She still sounded like Olivier's mother, and as though she were just about to embark on a rant about time and place and don't-you-think-you-drink-too-much-darling?

"Oh God," René said, looking sick. "No."

Isa, still standing in the doorway, winced and scratched at his head. Olivier blinked at him. "What the fuck," he enquired, heading for a sane version of the communal insanity that seemed to be unleashed without anyone's say-so, "did you do to your hair?"

"Solidarity," Isa said, nodding.

"Jesus wept," said Olivier, realising his mouth was slightly open and snapping it shut.

"Yeah," René said. "My day on a plate. Go to airport, get harassed by press, go to Interior, hand in resignation, listen to de Winter telling the press I'm hands off, listen to du Plessis lie on every fucking radio station - thanks for that, really, Isa – and then spend twenty minutes in a barber's while Isa gets a buzz cut to make me feel at home. Seriously. I hate you all."

"Well, if it makes you feel any better, I can tell you that I have absolutely no intention of cutting my hair. The two of you look awful," Olivier's mouth twitched. Yes, this was good. This was normal. There was a floodlight and he could seen the ground beneath his feet…at least for the moment. "Rum?"

René's mouth, what he could see of it, curled into a helpless little smile. "Just call me Captain Morgan," he agreed, and lowered the handkerchief at last, looking at it in disgust. "Er..."

"Sparrow," said Isa. Kitty looked as though she wanted to smack him.

"No, you can be Captain Sparrow," René said with spurious generosity, and dropped the handkerchief into the empty fruit bowl on the hallway table. Olivier restrained a cheer in the name of mess. "Morgan's better."

"Is Morgan the one with the black beard?" Isa asked, looking horribly eager to start practising drunken reeling. Kitty's glare would only hold him in place for so long.

"That's Blackbeard," Olivier said, straight-faced, and René coughed out a laugh that sounded infinitely more human than the painful little noises he had been making while he sat on the floor.

"You're all three insane. You know that, right?" Kitty shook her head.

"Yes," Isa nodded. "And you are the Queen of the Ju-Ju-Be people… I'll get the ice."

Olivier moved to the bar and began pulling things out at random, "Rum, vodka, gin… schnapps, tequila… and the ever popular bottle of… something green."

It was amazing how a bottle of something green always seemed to end up in a drinks collection, even if no-one had made an active or in fact conscious decision to buy it. In this particular case, it turned out to be Midori, which Olivier couldn't imagine anyone drinking ever, but then it wouldn't exist if that were true.

"Right," René agreed, looking at it with a fascinated kind of revulsion. "Um –"

"Yeah, I have no idea," Olivier agreed.

"I'll just – take a shower," René said a bit vaguely, and vanished up the stairs before anyone could stop him.

"That wasn't my fault," Isa said, scowling up after him, "so no-one even think about hitting me."

"No… I don't think it was anyone's fault," Olivier said softly. "He's just a bit overwhelmed."

"And you punched him, you jerk," Kitty socked him in the arm.

"Ow." Olivier scowled at her. "Yes, I did… but … Look you know it's going to take awhile for him to settle back in to being… himself. Right?"

He caught himself looking at Isa for reassurance.

"Yeah," Isa said, but he was obviously thinking about something else. "Yeah, but – thing is, who's he got to go back to being? He's not an agent any more, he's not someone's partner any more, he's not Keller any more – yeah, okay, thank God and little fluffy bunnies for the last one, but – I dunno, Kits. Maybe going back to being someone who has their conversations remembered and gets punched for it isn't that bad."

All Olivier had been thinking about was 'normal'…well, as normal as they ever got…but everything Isa had said was true. René was home, but nothing was going to be normal for him for quite some time. He was the one who was taking that step out of the helicopter - only in his case, even the rope was fraying. Olivier cringed in sympathy.

Kitty winced. "Should I go up and –" she waved a hand at the stairs.

"No," said Isa with unusual sternness. "No, under no circumstances, no. We'll give him half an hour and then Cassius Clay here can go check on him."

"But why can't I –"

"Why me –"

Isa gave them both long-suffering looks, and then ran his hands over his newly-cropped head with a grimace.

"Okay, sit down," he said, strangely gentle, and waited while they exchanged uncomprehending glances and sat on the sofa, Kitty adding an expression of fake, wide-eyed interest to her overdone attentiveness. Isa didn't even seem to notice. "Listen, the pair of you. Kitty, you act like you don't know the effect you have on blokes by all this 'I am so young and sweet' stuff, but fact is, you're evil and you do. 'Cept this time it's probably making René want to throw up and then claw his eyes out and his skin off, because he's been round people who are young and sweet and it's been his job to stop them being that. And truth is? I can't help. I can't help because much as I love him, he knows part of me is a shrink and part of me is analysing him, and while he doesn't blame me for it, he doesn't need that, either. So that leaves you." He jerked his thumb at Olivier. "You're the only one who seems capable of being anything recognisable around him. So guess what? You got the job of keeping it up."

"But I--" Olivier thought about that for a long moment. Could he manage to keep this up? It would be damn fucking hard because deep inside him he really wanted to do exactly what Kitty honestly wanted to do… take René and protect him until he felt stronger. It was something he would have done for anyone he cared about – except that in this case his only advantage, according to Isa, was that he wasn't a sweet looking young girl, and anything he might think was a good plan probably wasn't. But Isa knew his stuff for the most part and, he supposed, that would have to be good enough. "I'll do my best, Isa, you know that."

"Yeah," Isa said, but his eyes were dark and unreadable and oddly assessing, making Olivier wonder just what he had done to make Isa think he wouldn't measure up. "Yeah, I know," he said, and smiled.

But his eyes didn't change. Olivier looked away from him.

Because you'd never say 'I'll do my best' if it was an order, would you? You'd just get on and do it. And you'd get it done or be dead. Face it, it's the same thing here and now, just a different sort of being dead.

"You know, that half-hour thing's a load of crap, Isa," he said, and got to his feet. "You ever tried to wash mental blood off? Doesn't work. Never works."

"So what, you're going to cut off the water supply?" Isa asked, but his expression lightened, almost with approval.

"Nope," Olivier said. "I'm going to flush the toilet till that shower runs too cold to stand."

"And they say I'm evil," Kitty said rather faintly. She looked stunned, still, though Olivier thought it was more because she had just been told off by Isa than any new awareness of what was going on or what René had been doing.

"You are," Olivier said cheerfully, and headed for the stairs.


Olivier had been surprised when he returned downstairs, René duly frozen out of his shower and looking less like a refugee and more like a wet and furious cat with a towel fetish, to find that Isa and Kitty had already gone. It felt oddly like a reprieve of some kind that he'd been left on his own with René. Now all he had to do was decide on his next plan of action. Assuming René came back downstairs and didn't just curl up in his bed.

Either way, he felt the need of a drink, and went to the bar to mix himself a rum and Coke – assuming that there would be nothing about the smell of either to make René head for the stairs again to get away from it. Then grabbing a book he'd had there from the previous night he sprawled out on the couch in what he hoped would look like a casual pose. He felt comfortable at least, so it would probably be okay.

But when René came in, he didn't look as though he cared whether Olivier had doused himself in Keller's favourite brand of scotch and was about to set fire to himself, so it was all pretty much wasted. He came back from the bar carrying a bottle of Absolut, and the ice, and, Olivier noted in relief, a glass. If René was going to head for oblivion, which Olivier had to admit he completely deserved, then at least he was going to do it with the small pauses required to keep topping a glass up.

"I opted for the rum, myself," he lifted his glass and straightened his sprawl enough to give René more room.

He wasn't surprised that the eyes that looked back at him were tired and glazed looking. What did surprise him was the lost expression. It shouldn't have, but it did, so foreign was it to René's face.

"Music?" He suggested, calmly, his eyes not leaving René's face. He had a million and one questions, but he wasn't sure if now was the time to ask, or if waiting would be better. He was going to just play it by ear and hope he got it right.

René made a visible effort to think about it. "I. No," he said at last, the words sounding dragged out of him, and Olivier wished that Isa was still there, if only to give René something to use as avoidance, like strangling irritation. "It –" He passed a hand over the back of his head, as though expecting it to hurt when he touched it. "Never mind."

"No, what? It's still all your music, I promise not to put on something of Isa's..."

René snorted. "Yes, that might actually be the solution. No, it's stupid. I can't say anything if there's music on at the moment and not –" His neck was turning red, and Olivier stared at him.

"Not what? Strip off all your clothes and dance? Give in to programming and start looking for people so you can pull of their fingernails?"

"No!" René yelped, but he looked less embarrassed and not at all horrified, and fairly annoyed instead, all of which Olivier took to be good things. "Not end up looking like I'm at a funeral. Or whatever's a reasonable time for people to cry pointlessly."

"Music does that?" Olivier asked, feeling embarrassed for René, for reasons he couldn't quite identify. "Jesus. Ouch. Well, that's unfair."

Immensely unfair, considering that normally turning on his music was how René relaxed. "A book then? Food? Another punch in the nose?"

"God no," René answered quickly. "Once was more than sufficient, I hope."

Okay then. Isa said I should treat him normally. What would I normally do when he came home? He took a deep breath and plunged in before he could talk himself out of it, "So, what happens now?"

"I suppose I look for another job," René said, not sounding as if he really meant it. "Shit. I mean, I have to. I'm unemployed." His laugh was tight and nasty. "Where do you think I should start sending my CV? 'Can rape on demand', not much call for that, I wouldn't have thought..."

"Jesus, René –" he was pretty sure that was mostly René, anyway, and he wasn't exactly in a position to complain about being the nearest target for miserable venom to be directed at, but still.

"Oh, don't even," René snapped, refilling his glass. "You know what I was doing, you can't pretend to be surprised –"

"No, but I don't exactly get that said to me on a regular daily basis, what with working with Isa and Dufay, so give me a break here, would you?" Olivier said in the same tone. "I'm not going to poke you like Isa and try and be understanding here, or ask you what you're talking about, because I've got a pretty good idea, and to quote you from a long time ago, you're probably completely wrong and I never had any illusions about you to shatter. So stop acting like I'm someone you can push away and pretend you're human, would you? They tell me it gets easier after you've pretended a bit. Or were you lying about that?"

"No," René said after a pause. "No, I – I wasn't." He swallowed more vodka, and then said flatly, "It was in my contract. It was in my contract. So why do I feel like I belong dead and not Keller?"

"Because you are a living, feeling human being… but you also know that sometimes you have to do the wrong things to make the right things happen." He took a gulp of his own drink. "I was a sniper, René, do you think that never haunts me? And yes, I know that was in the line of duty, but so the hell was this." Was this why Isa had told him to be the one? Because he got it? He wasn't sure who this was worse for, but he carried on doggedly. "We're not playing the whose pain is worse game though. It's all wrong. It all hurts. But damn it, sometimes you just do it anyway…because in the end, it helps." Or would he amended to himself, if there weren't so many jackasses like du Plessis out in the world.

"Except the only one who got stopped never even existed, and the only person who's been helped is du Plessis," René said bitterly, confirming his thoughts. "I suppose I'm lucky this isn't going to be a media circus – and God, I am going to owe de Winter into three more reincarnations for that one..."

"What did he do?" Olivier asked with morbid fascination, because yeah, the way things had gone from what he had seen at the airport to dead quiet was amazing.

"Not sure." René shrugged. "Mostly played on having killed Keller and how since none of it was going to court..."

"Wait." Olivier put his drink down. "None of it? None of it? All your work, du Plessis took the whole thing and –"

"It's in my contract," René repeated dully. His hands were shaking when he poured more vodka.

"Fuck… that's just---" Olivier could not find the words to say what it just was. All that fucking work and the scum gets away because a newspaper man wants to make himself a name.

"Yes, that is just." René agreed, taking another drink, and Olivier wished he didn't know how very much René meant the other meaning of what sounded like wordplay. Right and just. Like hell it is...

"You don't owe de Winter anything, you know? If anything he owes you, because du Plessis could just have easily dragged him along for the ride." Oliver scowled at the idea.

"Yeah, I do," René said, oddly gentle. "I do, because you know how he really got me out of ever having to talk to anyone, including du Plessis, again?"

Olivier shook his head, wondering how bad it could be – wondering if anything could be as bad as the stuff he was thinking.

"He pointed out it was against the law for me to say anything. Because I'd signed –"

"The contract," Olivier completed the sentence with him. He really, really wanted to hit something. It wasn't right that René should feel this damn grateful for what was pretty much a basic human right. It wasn't right that the laws which were right now keeping René safe had also made him into the man who could so easily call himself a rapist, and probably, Olivier recognised with a sick little twist of his heart, probably with justification if you looked at the moral side of it rather than whether there'd been consent involved or not. And it was all fucked.

He must have said at least some of that aloud, because René was looking at him with an odd little smile.

"Yes," he said, rather raspily. "I know. It really is. But thank you."

"So what? He gets a fucking gold star for just pointing out the truth?" Olivier still wasn't happy about the idea, but, well, maybe there was more to it that he didn't know about, would probably never know about because… yeah, René wasn't supposed to talk to him about a lot of it either. "Yeah.. Fine… whatever…"

It was frustrating as hell and Olivier felt the sudden irrational need to punch someone… or something… or maybe just join René in getting horribly drunk.

"Just a personal gold star from me," René said, snorted out laughter, and then touched his nose, rather tentatively. "Okay, that really does hurt."

"Good," said Olivier. "It's meant to. But you notice I, being a much nicer person, didn't break it."

"Oh, you're a prince," René agreed, and refilled his glass again, and Jesus, Olivier had seen him in the glass-walled shower, how could anyone who'd got that damned thin have the kind of alcohol tolerance René was displaying?

"You think you should slow down?" he suggested, and off René's scathing look, made a face. "Yeah, okay, coming from me that's fucking ironic, but –"

"I'm killing the adrenaline burn," René said flatly. "I've got to get rid of this damned high –" and shit, yeah, Olivier'd done that a couple of times in his life, got himself so physically screwed it was either drugs or a bottle to help level it out, and it might sound like a bad joke, but what René was doing worked. There was a hell of a lot less chance of the alcohol deciding it was going to react in weird and unexpected ways with the state of your body than a handful of pills might, even if you could find someone to prescribe them at the levels necessary.

"Sorry," he said, and meant it. "Go for it." He went to put his hand on René's shoulder and then stopped, because René really, really needed to know right now that there was no way anyone was ever going to move into his personal space without express permission, and then started again because the last thing he wanted was for René to think Olivier now considered him too filthy to touch, and the whole thing was just stupid and impossible and really, really fucking annoying and where did Isa get off with his 'oh, you can do this' disappearing stunt anyway?

But normally he would have just given René's shoulder a quick squeeze and a friendly pat… so normal it was, and hope it was taken that way. René didn't openly flinch so he guessed it was all right… or else the alcohol was making him numb enough not to notice.

"You know, if the worst comes to the worst, I can name several people who'd love to have you managing their finances." Olivier suddenly chuckled. "Fancy being a stock broker?"

"Yeah, no," René said, sounding amused, but there was something raw and desperate in his eyes that Olivier didn't really want to think about right then.

I do not want to calculate the cost.
I do not want to think about whether it's good.

He started to say something, and stopped, as one of René's hands came up and gripped his arm, painfully tight.

"Don't," he said harshly, and Olivier didn't. He didn't say anything and he didn't move, feeling the fine tremors racking René's whole body transmit themselves along his arm.

He kept his eyes on the long, tense fingers, staying silent because it was the only thing he'd been asked for, until the punishing grip lessened and René's breathing evened out.

He looked up, then, and caught his breath in something that wasn't anywhere close to a laugh. René was asleep.


Relaxed, probably for the first time in days, possibly weeks, even more probably, if Olivier knew René at all, in months; relaxed into unconsciousness with his hand wrapped around Olivier's arm, as though the mere touch of him had acted better than any drug. And why did that feel oddly like a gift rather than a mere happenstance?

Olivier shifted slowly and carefully until René was in a more comfortable looking position, his head resting on Olivier's thigh, his long thin legs moving unconsciously up onto the couch – probably, Olivier thought, because it was either that or turn into a human pretzel, which even someone that deeply asleep would find hard to accommodate without pain – or morphine.

It was amazing, really, that René could fall asleep like this, even after the amount of alcohol he'd gone through. Amazing that he could stand to touch or be touched when he obviously felt so appallingly dirty and so very raw. The amount of trust that had taken had to be--

God. Olivier looked down at René, draping one arm protectively over him. He trusts me. How did that happen when I've never done anything to merit it?

But it had to be true.

Tentatively, he put a hand on the close-cropped back of René's head, feeling the warmth of his skin and the slightly feverish, hotter patches that weren't visible but must have been where Keller's bleaching had affected his skin. René didn't stir at the touch.

It didn't even occur to Olivier to move away from his stillness.


René had been too absolutely asleep, almost thrown into it from the cliff edge of forced wakefulness, for his first moments of consciousness to be anything but deeply unpleasant. Unsure where he was, or when it was, or why he had let himself sleep at first, his initial reaction was, rather than to check for anything familiar or at least recognisable in context, to be alarmed at just how fast and hard his heart was beating and just how stupid he had been to let himself become so completely unaware.

Forcing himself to stay very still, so that whatever advantage he might have conceivably gained by being unconscious wouldn't be lost – not that he could think of any – and trying to keep his breathing level quiet and slow so as not to give away his heart rate, he almost stopped breathing altogether when a hand went over his eyes.

"The light's on," said Olivier's familiar voice. "You might want to keep them shut for a minute."

"Jesus fuck!" René shot upright and almost fell off whatever it was he had been sleeping on – the sofa, God, I remember, how did I fall asleep like that? – squinting into unwise green dazzle at Olivier's slightly confused expression.

"I did warn you," Olivier said ruefully, turning the light to a dimmer setting and putting his book down on the end table. "Does that help?"

René blinked, trying to clear both the sleep and the light out of his eyes, "Yeah… a bit."

"Now you look really horrible," Olivier said with an evil sort of kindliness that René felt dimly he should be very wary of indeed. "You looked vile earlier, but now you look like a not very well-reanimated corpse."

"Thanks?" René said, rubbing his hands over his face.

"You're welcome," Olivier said with a total lack of sincerity, and René scowled at him while he tried to marshal his thoughts out of panic-caught monosyllables and into something approaching his usual vocabulary, where he could at least pretend to normality, even badly. "Hangover?"

René considered it. "No," he said slowly. He wasn't. He had the general malaise that came from a deep and unexpected sleep that had done nothing to make up his rather desperate deficit therein, but otherwise, he seemed to be alright. "Why's the light on?"

"Because it's raining and therefore dark," Olivier said with a patience for which René was almost pathetically grateful. "Too dark in here to read, anyway. You haven't been asleep all that long."

Which was either a relief or just one more moment of terror, that he had apparently become so transparent.

"Although, I suspect that's something you'd like to remedy." Olivier smiled at him. "Probably someplace more comfortable than the couch?" He stood and stretched, "Or food? I only vaguely remember having coffee this morning…"

René felt his stomach turn over slowly and thoroughly. "Not coffee," he said, swallowing.

"I'm starting to get that," Olivier agreed, unconcerned at what must have seemed like insanity. "Keller lived off it, then?"

René nodded. He was going to have to do something about this, he knew. Not that he was an agent any more in any case, but he didn't think he would make much headway as a functioning human being if even the thought of the smell or taste of something he had been practically living off made him turn into a living depiction of a phobia.

"So… if you could have anything in the world to eat… what would it be?"

René gave a snort in spite of himself, "What? Are you now the genie of the lamp and will make it appear?"

"Of course not," Olivier answered him back. "I'll make Isa go get it."

"You'll get Isa out of work to go and get me food?" René's eyebrows shot up. "Well, that's one way of losing a popularity contest..."

"Oh, I'd win it," Olivier said quickly. "I would with everyone else, anyhow. Isa's going to be worse than useless at work today, and the only thing everyone will think if he gets out now, even without a word, is 'oh thank you God, thank you...'"

"On their knees?" René asked, his stomach twisting again at the thought of prayer, the crucified Christ in the Roman church, the thorns and nails and blood –

"He'd like that," Olivier agreed, but René knew he was being watched, and carefully. "You're going to have to tell someone some of this, you know. It's why they have debriefing –"

"Everyone knows about Keller," René cut him off. "There's nothing to say."

"I'm not talking about Keller," Olivier snapped back. "No one gives a fuck about Keller… but they do care about you."

"I'm fine."

"Bullshit." Olivier huffed. "But I'll let it go… for now."

Oh wonderful, René thought dully, the idea of being watched and waited for and constantly being on edge about when Olivier would finally decide to push almost too much to bear. It was going to be like living in the executioner's cell...

He knew that if he were left alone, he could seal it all off, come to terms with things in his own way, no matter how much everyone disapproved of it; could compartmentalise the things he needed to remember and those more vivid, annihilating things he so desperately needed to forget if he was going to be able to re-enter the human race ever again.

But there was no withstanding compassion, given freely and without pity. There was no withstanding Olivier, even when he was at his worst, and he was very far from that in his aggravated vow of patience.

"Italian," he said then, quickly. Keller had hated Italian food, René had made sure of it, wanting to have something to come back to that was entirely free of any kind of pleasurable association of the man's. "Think Isa can manage that?"

"Only if we tell him what we want and where to get it… otherwise you'll wind up with pizza," Olivier laughed. "I can call Antonio's though… and have Isa pick it up. They don't usually do take out… but I think I can arrange it."

He pulled out his phone book, "Anything in particular?"

René just looked at him, mouth twitching, and Olivier shook his head, half-way between laughter and annoyance. "On my own head be it, you mean, if I spend a fortune and you decide you hate it all..."

René nodded, and shrugged a little, not quite as shamefaced as he was making out, but nowhere near as casual, either. The thought of money made the rats gnawing at his stomach return again – not because he had to worry about it, his insurance policies in the form of stocks could have kept him going five times over at the rate he lived, job or no job – but because there was something about knowing it was earned that made it all easier, almost as though unless it came with a price of boredom and misery and sometimes outright fear, it wasn't his money at all. And Olivier, he knew, was more than capable of using the knowledge that he wasn't earning in order to feed his own peculiar obsessions and insist on paying for things.

He needed to get himself re-employed, and fast. Either that, or throw Olivier out, and he really didn't think he was ever going to be capable of the latter, even if it might be the best thing for both of them.

Olivier dialled the phone, and asked to speak to Antonio, "Antonio, amico mio, come sta? Oh... That's good. And Isabella? Good, good. Ho bisogno d'un piccolo favore. Just a little one. No, I promise… no more rice eaters. No, no, sono molto spiacente – Antonio, non era la mia programma! Yes, yes. Lissa, if you can imagine…"

Olivier carried the phone over to the bar as he went on to place their order, "Oh, and wine too, of course. How long? Good. Perfect. Si, lo sei, un favore grande, Antonio. Arrivederci."

"You drank your entire cellar?" René asked. Olivier made a face at him, and he laughed. "You're buttering him up to make him think you're completely dependent on his good taste, aren't you?"

"Maybe," Olivier agreed, looking sheepish.

"You Italian's awful," René added. "No wonder he thinks you're helpless."

"My Italian is perfetto, thank you very much..." Olivier said kissing his fingers in demonstration.

"As long as you never try and speak it, yes," René agreed, widening his eyes as innocently as Isa's best attempt.

"Okay… so maybe not that perfect," Olivier had the decency to admit. "But it amuses him that I even try, which also wins me points. And… I have few scruples when it comes to good food."

"Which also forces me to ask why you so often eat complete crap?"

"Expediency?" Olivier answered quickly. "Isa? Oh… Isa… Let me tell him he's picking up dinner."

"Are you going to tell him in Italian?" René asked sweetly, and Olivier looked around, presumably for something to throw at him.

"You're lucky," he said mock-primly, "that I don't disarrange sofa cushions any more."

"You don't." René blinked at him a bit, wondering what he was talking about. "Er...."

"Exceptions, however, must always be conceded," Olivier droned, and smacked him straight in the face with one. René's nose started throbbing again.

"Why do I like you?" he asked in outrage, "Why?"

"The challenge?" Olivier suggested. "Or possibly the fact that you can insult me all day and I rarely take offense. Or possibly my dazzling hazel eyes…"

He batted them at René, adding a simpering smile that was actually… more than just slightly disturbing.

"Dear God," René said fervently. "Stop that. It's frightening."

"But I've been practising," Olivier said, in tones that matched his expression quite horribly.

René stared at him for a moment, lost for words, and then managed – "Why?"

"So I could make you look just like that," Olivier said, going back to normal, and before René could ask, finished smugly, "Fishface."

René, trying to enter into the spirit of complete idiocy, took a swing at him with the sofa cushion – and apparently had got whatever his mood was supposed to be entirely wrong. Olivier dropped the phone in surprise and tried to wrestle the cushion away from him, as though it really were some deadly instrument that René was intent on doing harm with. René tugged back, automatically protesting, but overestimated the force and slid off the side of the couch, taking Olivier with him.

"Okay...ow." Olivier laughed, a little uneasily. "I think your knee is in… Ah! Um… careful there please…"

"Oh… sorry…" René managed to right himself, and looked down at where Olivier was still sitting, and searching for his phone.

Something strange was going on, and somehow René didn't think it had anything to do with him, at least not directly. It was Olivier. He was acting…differently.

He's probably worrying in case Keller makes a reappearance, he thought somewhat dismally. I would be, God knows...

He shook his head, got up from the floor, and went to find his glasses. Shading the world seemed the only possible solution.

The one thing he was not expecting, when he went into his study, was to be faced with the jumper neatly replaced on the back of his chair.

"What the –"

He had hidden that in his wardrobe. He knew he had. Someone would have had to look for it very carefully indeed in order to find it.

"As though I need reminding of –" He choked back the words and his anger, knowing them both to be irrational. Whoever had done this – Olivier, it had to be the one person who'd picked up on the fact the damn thing existed – had probably thought themselves to be helping, not considering how he would feel about having his things gone through. He closed his eyes, and tried to put all his feelings about privacy aside. He was being entirely ridiculous.


Several days after René's return they were back to the same old grind. Olivier's desk was piled high with files and reports and he was going through them one more time. Their search for some connection to city employees, either ex or current, had so far yielded nothing. The rental trucks that might have been used had all been tracked and their driver's alibi's checked with not a single piece of evidence coming to light.

"Aw fuck… What?! No!! No!! No!!" Isa whined. "That was an hour's work you confounded piece of contrary crap!"

"Isa broke his computer..."

"Tattle tale…"

"You really are six aren't you?" Kitty shoved a donut in Isa's mouth and patted his cheek. "You hit the little red "X" again…"

"I know I hit the little red X," Isa said around the donut. "It's supposed to be intelligent enough to know I didn't want to!"

"Computers," Olivier said virtuously, "aren't psychic..."

"Well it's fucking well psychic when it decides on spelling! It keeps changing all my words to gibberish – Kitty, get it back for me!"

Kitty scowled at him, "One - I'm not your secretary, nor am I your IT guy. Two - even if I was, I wouldn't do it with a demand like that. And three - no."

She stomped out of the room without another glance at Isa's screen.

"Ooops. I think I made her mad," Isa grimaced. "Do you think I made her mad, Olivier?"

"Probably," Olivier said without much interest. He never really cared much about what Isa's problems were with anyone, even Kitty at her most inexplicable. Isa sometimes wondered if he even noticed that anything was wrong. "Maybe you need to stop treating her like she's got all the answers to your technological woes..."

"Yeah, but she does," Isa said unanswerably. "She just won't share..." and maybe he needed to do what she said and stop treating her like his PA, but since he'd always done that and she'd never really minded before, he didn't see why he should change the habits of a work lifetime on her say-so.

"Look… just because you've known her forever, does not mean she's the same person that she was when she was twelve," Olivier growled. "Deal with it."

"And apparently her bad mood is contagious," Isa shook his head. "Dufay, when are we getting a replacement for our computer guy?"

"As soon as you promise to stop traumatizing them."

Which was probably going to be the far side of never, Isa acknowledged. He didn't mean to terrorise their IT people, it just seemed to happen – usually as soon as they took a look at his computer. The fact that he used the porn sites to monitor just how far reputable sites were legally going seemed to make no difference to anyone, even when he explained – possibly because that was not his department and his motives were at the very least questionable.

Oddly enough, René had no difficulty with it – mostly because he understood the concept of maintaining incredibly odd contacts in whatever way was best. It could also, Isa acknowledged, be because the images were incredibly tame compared to what he was used to seeing in person, but it was better at the moment not to speculate about that.

Mostly because trying to talk about anything to René was getting impossible. Olivier had appointed himself Guardian Of Speech, and it wasn't worth the glaring to try. Since René's own, rather more impressive glares and protests were bouncing off Olivier as neatly as Kitty's bad mood, it was an utter impasse of good intentions gone irritatingly wrong.

Isa was halfway waiting for Olivier to come in sporting another broken nose, but so far René had shown remarkable restraint.

Sighing, he reopened his program, hoping against hope that his document would show as 'recovered'. His computer made an odd click and there was the sound of the fan coming on… and then -

"Aw fuck…"

"Eloquent as always, I see."

"René!" Isa looked up with a grin. "What are you doing here?"

René gave him an amused look. "Your captain bellowed, I replied," he said. "Does he do anything in a normal voice?" He kicked Isa's tower block sharply, and the screen came back on again.

Olivier glared at them from behind his files.

"Well, sometimes he whispers really scarily in your ear," Isa said truthfully, "but – yeah, no. Pretty much no."

"Ah, d'Herblay! I thought I heard you out there. Come in! Come in!" De Treville called from across the bullpen.

"See what I mean?" Isa's lip twitched.

"So very much yes," René murmured, and left him to it.

Olivier was still glaring at him.

"What?" Isa demanded.

"What do you think de Treville wants with René?" Olivier asked.

Isa looked at him blankly, "How the fuck should I know? I barely know what the man wants me to do, let alone anyone else."

"Sorry," Olivier grimaced, "It's de Treville - he'll understand what René's been through."

Isa stared at him. "Yeah, great," he said. "You know, I might be six, but René isn't. If he wants someone to leave him alone, he's completely capable of telling them. Your idea of chivalry is going to get you another punch in the snout – from me! – if you don't lay off – he's not some fucking Victorian maiden, in case you've failed to notice!"

Olivier muttered something under his breath and then turned back to his files.

Did he just say - ? Okay… Isa could have sworn that Olivier said that, "It might be easier if he were a Victorian maiden." What the fuck did that mean?

Isa decided to kindly pretend he hadn't heard anything odd, and nodded genially. "I know, you agree with me completely," he said. "It's because I'm always so worth paying attention to and always, always right. So you just said you were going to back off and shut up, right?"

Olivier looked up at him with an expression that threatened bodily harm in the next five seconds. Isa beamed at him. "Good, good," he said happily, and looked in amazement at his screen as it started doing a slideshow of documents he couldn't even remember opening, let alone writing. "Oh, what? Argh, no, help! What -?"

He quickly clicked the "X" again, killing the program, but it continued to open documents randomly for a few more seconds, even printing a few of them with no say so on Isa's part.

"Thank you, Monsieur d'Herblay." The chief's voice was booming again. "Let me know what you decide, as soon as possible."

"I will," René nodded then turned and headed back towards Isa.

He looked happier than Isa had seen him since before he left for Rome, happier than before he was shot, his still-shadowed face alive with a kind of grim joy.

"Okay, de Treville just told you he's having an extra Christmas," Isa said blankly.

"No, guess again," René said. He seemed to be trying not to laugh.

"He wants to run away with you and have your man babies?"

"What? No!" René laughed.

"Isa! Really," Olivier scowled at him.

"No… not Isa either." Rene was still looking astoundingly pleased with life.

"I'm out then." Isa shrugged good naturedly.

"He wants to hire me as a consultant," René said, poker-faced.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, and then he wants –" Isa stopped. "Oh fuck me, you're serious."

"I am."

"You told him no, right?" Olivier growled from his seat.

"I told him I'd think about it."

"You-- What the fuck, René? Do you really think you're ready for something like that?" Olivier's look was incredulous.

"It's not like he's going to be out in the field, Olivier. It's called con-sul-ting…" Isa frowned. He could see the forestalled row headed towards them like a particularly dangerous iceberg, with Olivier in the role of the Titanic. Part of him thought it was going to be hellish fun, and the rest of him wanted to go and hide in the morgue.

"I'm fine, Olivier. I do keep telling you that, but you simply refuse to listen."

"Don't give me that bull. How can--?"

"And," René's voice grew deadly calm, "whether I am or not, I would prefer not to discuss my personal business in the middle of this office."

Round one to René, Isa thought. Nothing could have shut Olivier up quicker.

"Well, if you're going to act as a consultant," Olivier said dangerously, "it's not personal any more, is it?"

And oh wow, had he got it wrong.

"The job is not personal," René agreed. "But anything to do with my mental stability, or lack of, is my own business and I'd thank you to stay the hell out of it."

"How can I stay out of it when you won't even admit there might be a problem?" Olivier asked, his voice low and intense.

"Are you telling me you don't trust my mental stability?" René retorted, dangerously quiet. "Really? You're going to tell me that I'm not in a fit mental state to do a job?"

Oh God, Isa thought, feeling hysteria bubble in him. How the hell long has this one been brewing?

"Would it do any good if I did?" Olivier snapped back, then grabbed his jacket off the back of his chair and stormed off towards the door. "I'm going to lunch."

"It's only nine o'clock in the morning…"

"I don't fucking care!"

"Er..." Isa started, and René turned on him with one finger extended like a malevolent teacher's rule.

"Don't – even – dare," he grated out.

"Wasn't thinking of it," Isa said obligingly, as René went out after Olivier at a speed that would have frightened a time warp. He looked around him at the empty office, which seemed to have developed the atmosphere of an echoing tunnel, and sighed. "Great," he said, to no-one in particular.

"Overdue," said de Treville from his office door, and Isa looked up at him.

"This," he said, "is all your fault."

"This is all to my credit," de Treville said with infuriating smugness, "and one day you will all appreciate my genius."

Isa thumped his head down onto the desk and moaned.


Olivier was trying to ignore the fact that René was behind him, and if it hadn't been for the lady with the baby carriage, he might actually have made his escape. As it was, René caught up with him within two blocks and they were now engaged in a staredown while the rest of the pedestrian traffic flowed around them, two silent islands in a sea of activity.

"We're going have to talk."

"Oh? Do you think it will do any good? You said I don't listen."

"You don't, no," René agreed. "So maybe you should try talking instead. I'll do my best not to scream at you, whatever it is you have to say that's making you....oh, let me think, what's the word again – oh yes, that would be it! Insane! Christ, how dare you question my mental state when you're acting like this?"

"I'm just trying to -" Olivier began, and then stopped himself. "No… never mind. I'm insane. You're right. Go on, René. Do whatever you want. You obviously don't appreciate my advice and I'm really too insane to give it."

And really, his thoughts had been so jumbled up lately that he wasn't sure what he'd say anyway. You can't work at the Sûreté with me. That wouldn't go over very well… hadn't in fact. Worse would be if René found out that his reasoning had very little to do with René's well-being and far more to do with his own.

"What is your advice?" René demanded. "Sit at home and wait to fall apart out of boredom? Hasn't it occurred to you that I'm good at what I do because I like doing it? That I enjoy being good at it? That I actually feel as though I'm contributing something to life if I – oh that would be it! Contribute! You can't keep the world away from me in case I don't like it – I don't bloody like it half the time, what's that got to do with anything except wanting to change what I don't like? I'm not heading for the mental ward, but I damn well will be if I have to stop myself being involved much longer – what do you want me to do, Olivier, pretend all my training and knowledge died when Keller did? I told you once I don't like your habit of self-denigration as a deflection tactic – well you can bloody well deepen that feeling to a good old-fashioned I can't stand it! You're just trying to what?"

"Protect myself." Olivier blurted out. Fuck.

He turned and started walking in the other direction, just as quickly as he had out the door of the Sûreté. God… I actually said that. What now?

He'd been taking a good hard look at himself in the days since René's return, but he wasn't in all honesty sure of what he saw. Or what this was that he was feeling. He wanted to protect René, yes, even from himself...but no more than he did Isa, or Kitty, or any of his other friends. But… somehow, that feeling was different, as if his motives were something other than what he said or did. None of it made sense… or maybe it did, and it was just in some strange language that he couldn't yet decipher.

"You know, I don't actually want to chase you all over Paris," René said, too close for Olivier's comfort, "But trust me, I'll do it all day if that's what it takes. You're trying to protect yourself from what? Me? I promise if I flip out, I'll manage not to attack you. I generally manage that anyway, you know." There was a little wry twist in his voice that Olivier knew would be mirrored in his expression, if he turned around.

"Don't be ridiculous. You haven't killed Isa yet, so I'm not too worried." Olivier growled back at him. He was right though… René was determined enough to chase him all around town in order to get the answers he wanted. "Where are you parked?"

"At the Sûreté," René said, with a kind of weary amusement. "Obviously. With a guest pass and everything. Or should I not mention that in case you abandon comprehensibility again?"

Olivier just gave a shrug and turned back in that direction. "We'll go back to your house… if that's alright?"

He was beginning to feel resigned to having this whole thing out. Nothing good would come of it, he was sure. What he wasn't sure of was René's reaction to getting the answers he was asking for.

"Yes, it's fine," René said automatically, but he was still looking at Olivier as though he were a specimen in a glass case, giving nothing of his thoughts away other than mild interest, and it was deeply, deeply disconcerting. "I'll follow you out."

Apparently escape was not going to be an option, even if he had really been thinking of it.

Their arrival back at René's house was as silent as Olivier's drive home had been. They parked their cars and went inside, Olivier going in to the living room and taking a seat on the sofa while René hung up his coat.

Olivier just stared out the window, looking into the garden. The plants they had planted the previous year had taken a good hold and were blooming out well, in the joy of a rainy Paris spring.

"Coming back here to talk rather implies that, you know, someone talk." René suggested quietly.

"You sound like Isa," Olivier said, making a face at his faint reflection in the glass doors.

"In speech patterns or in content?" René asked, still sounding vaguely fed-up. "Well, if that's what it takes to get you started, I'll take what I can get." There was a small pause, and then he added – "Well. If I can. I'm not sure how I'd sound like Isa full-time, but if it would help, I'll certainly do my best..."

"God, no. One is more than enough." Olivier said quickly. "I'm just not sure where to start…and please don't tell me 'at the beginning' because I'm not sure where that would be or if that's …Christ. Look, René, I-- I'm nervous about talking to you about this. Not that it has anything to do with you…except the part where it has everything to do with you and…"
He looked up to see a very puzzled and bemused expression on René's face. "I know. I know. I'm not making any sense and I probably won't make much more… until I do… and then you'll probably wish I'd never begun."

"If it's all going to be like this, I think I've already got to that stage," René said, his eyebrows heading towards his still-short hairline. "Skip to the end, maybe, and then I'll ask you the bits I need – filling in, or expanding on, or where they came from? I'm really terribly good at extrapolating. You know, that thing they often ask consultants to do?" A little edge entered his voice at the last, and Olivier struggled clear of the morass his mind had become for long enough to remember that actually, yes, René was still pretty annoyed with him.

"I—" No… starting at the end was a horrible idea. "Look… you were gone for a very long time…or at least it seemed like it. And no matter what you might think, we all worried about you. Not knowing where you were… if you were still alive or dead… and du--- du Plessis tried to get information from us… and… he said you'd washed up from the Tiber…"

He wanted to get up and pace the room, but he knew that would only be avoidance on his part.

"Did he now?" René asked with more than a trace of malevolence. "Well, I can add that to the list of things I owe him for." He sighed. "There was an agent washed up in the Tiber. Someone was targeting us, that was part of why I gave in to du Plessis. There were too many – uncertainties – for me to take the risk of blanking him. And I had an aversion to feeling responsible for any more deaths, and God – I would have been. I know you think that he and Keller between them have made me fragile, but – they haven't. Being in Rome was infinitely, infinitely worse than any of this. Du Plessis is a shit, but he's a – well, sometimes self-serving shits are a breath of fresh air. And I needed one. After Keller, there would have been nothing for me but to go deeper, take worse ops – or give it all up and ride a desk. So he did me a kind of favour, but at the same time..." He shook his head. "I owe him," he repeated, and there were enough darker levels to that word to make Olivier wonder just what du Plessis and René had talked about that hadn't ended up in the paper. "I'm sorry he targeted you, though."

"It's not important. It was a lie… or a mistake," Olivier shrugged. "Then de Winter called and it was even more of a mess and I couldn't do anything."

René started to reply to that, but Olivier cut him off, "Yes, I know. You're going to tell me that it wasn't my responsibility to do anything, and I know that. But damn it….If it were Isa or Kitty, I'd have felt the same way – frustrated, cut off, helpless."

"All right," René said, consolingly. "I can understand that. Of course I can understand that. But you can't do anything now, either – no, wait! Before you start shouting or tearing yourself apart, I mean you can't do anything now to change how it was. You can't erase it. You can't lock me in some sterile box and hope that makes up for it. I'm a living breathing man, Olivier, I don't do being protected when there's nothing to protect me from very well at all – Jesus Christ, I can't imagine I'd do very well when there is, let alone after the fact. I'm sorry you felt like that. I really – am – sorry. But you have got to let it go, for everyone's sake."

"I know… I know." Olivier growled. "I'm trying. Honestly. I know it's ridiculous, so just…kick me or something when I get too bad. "

"Fine," René frowned. "If that's settled then why do I feel like there's more to this?"

Olivier felt the sudden need to groan. Why did the man have to exercise his powers of perception right-bloody-now?

He ran his hands over his face, and tried again – "When you were away –" he started, and was cut off by a sudden sharp exclamation from René.


Olivier looked up at him, wondering at the sudden change in tone, and met true fear in René's eyes.

"Who told you?" he asked in a voice that was little more than a breath. "Which – who told you?"

And this was exactly what he'd been afraid of… that René would think he was visiting some kind of pity on him.

"Does it matter?" he asked quietly, looking back out the window.

"Yes, actually, because I'd like to know who I can so singularly fail to trust!" René snapped back, regaining some strength to his voice. "Jesus, what is wrong with people? Didn't it occur to anyone that the reason I wasn't saying anything was because I didn't want you to know? God! No wonder you've been treating me like I'm some sort of breakable glass object, you must think I'm the definition of pathetic!"

"God, no!" Olivier denied. "If anyone is pathetic, it's me… because I'm too…..fuck." He looked up at the ceiling, blinking his eyes in frustration. He tried one more time, speaking softly, "If this were one of Lissa's movies, I'd just kiss you and I wouldn't have to fucking explain anything else. But it's not… so you have me and my jumble of thoughts and wants and… I…I love you, René… but I'm not even sure what that means."

"Okay," said René very slowly, "and what? The hell? I turned into Hans Keller so you turned queer? That doesn't even make any sense when it's you talking! Olivier, I'm quite sure you love me and I'm quite sure you know what love is – because if nothing else you love Isa, for reasons even God wouldn't understand, and I'm touched and actually amazed that you can feel even remotely like that about me, but there is a difference between that and what I feel for you! I know this is going to come as a shock to you, but you – like – women!"

"Yes… I know." Olivier spoke very slowly. "Why the fuck do you think I'm so confused? Especially since… I know it's really, really not the same as what I feel for Isa. I just…. " He gave a short laugh. "Do you see why I've suddenly gone insane? Or think I have? And why I didn't want to tell you?"

"Yes," René said fervently. "I think you have too. You know, I'm – I don't think I've got any idea of what to say here, other than dear God, you are out of your mind. You can't make yourself love someone – not like that – just because you think you owe them some sort of weird debt of honour! It doesn't work, it makes everyone unhappy and – do you know," he said conversationally, changing tack, "I think I've really just about had it with married men who think I'd be a wonderful notch on their bedpost. Wait. That's unkind. At least Richard bloody well had sex with men as well before he decided he was going to deign to notice me!"

"Who?" Olivier was suddenly confused. "No… never mind. You think this is some kind of game? That's fine… You're the one who insisted that we talk. Don't blame me if you don't like what you hear. I'm not a child, René… I didn't just decide on you as….as some kind of whim. And do you think I have so bloody little respect for you that I'd ever do something like that?"

There was a knot in his stomach the size of a baby elephant, and damn if it didn't ache. What was wrong with him? Claire hand only wanted him for money and sex… and René, it appeared, didn't want him for either.

He looked around, suddenly feeling the frantic need to get out of the house… to run or hide or possibly just find a way of giving himself a plausible reason for amnesia. Like concussion from hitting an entirely different and much more understandable brick wall.

"But it doesn't make any sense," René repeated. "Olivier, I'm sorry, but I've got a choice here between accepting that you've decided you're in love with me when I'm conspicuous by my absence, or that you've fixed on me as at least being entirely opposite in every way from Claire!"

"Right… " Olivier felt that knot get just a bit bigger. "Look… I'm not going to argue with you or try to convince you. I… I've been down that road before and I'm apparently very bad at it. I care about you in a way I don't care about anyone else. It feels like love."

He didn't bother to explain more than wouldn't do him any good anyway.

"I'm sure it does," René said, and miserable as Olivier was, he could recognise despair when he heard it. "I'm sure it is. But it's not the same. You don't feel the same, and when you've had time to get out of whatever miserable panic du Plessis managed to send you into, you'll see that – and I'm damned if I'll be so irresponsible as to take what I want from this and wreck your life even further! Olivier, the reason I didn't want you to know is because I never, ever wanted you to feel that you had to respond."

"I understand that," Olivier told him. "Do you understand that this is just exactly why I didn't want to tell you either? Because I knew you'd find every excuse in the book for it not to be true…for it to be a mistake or something I'm imagining."

René bit his lip, and then nodded. "Yes, I can understand that," he agreed. "And it certainly makes sense of why you don't want me to work with you at the Sûreté. I should have recognised what you were doing – I suppose," he added, his voice quickening, "what I don't understand is how you ended up deciding this. I'm serious, I – it wasn't Keller, no-one could love Keller or someone capable of inhabiting him, and you've had time not to worry about whether I'm alive or not, so I just – I don't see how you went from accusing me of being the most god-awful person under the sun to standing here announcing you're in love with me."

Olivier hadn't understood that either, not really, but he was running so hard and so fast at the time that he had done a lot of stupid things. One of them had been the ridiculous and desperate dating… the drinking…being so bloody broody that it was still a surprise that he even had any friends left. Unfortunately, he was no stranger to fooling himself…and he'd had to do some very real self-examination before he even considered the situation enough to want to avoid telling René, let alone work out what the main problem was to start with.

It wasn't that amazing, in retrospect, that Isa had blown his top.

"Isa says that I've lived in denial for so long that I should rent a flat there." It was a very flippant statement, but also utterly true.

"Mm – I'm getting the impression Isa said a lot of things," René said wryly. "I'll have to talk to him about that..." He snorted. "Christ, and I thought I was having a rotten time of it!"

"You were," Olivier hastened to assure him. "Mine was just confused, and lonely, and more than a little frustrating, but not particularly dangerous."

"That," René pointed out with a return to his usual acid commentary, "is quite possibly a matter for debate."


René knew how insulting he must have sounded, but he also knew that he was closer to the truth than Olivier wanted to think. He was quite sure that Olivier had been worried, quite sure that he occupied a place in the man's affections, and was convinced that the combination of the two, on top of Isa's decision to make him party to a revelation that was in fact none of his business, had led Olivier to paths of thinking that, in his right mind, he would never even have considered.

You can have my love without any of this, he thought sadly, watching Olivier try not to pace. You can want someone to love you and not be able to give them the same kind of love back, and it doesn't make you wrong, or a bad person.

But he could no more say that to Olivier than he could tell him in stark terms what he was implying with his talk of 'being in love'. He was not someone who naturally tended towards crude statements, but he wondered if Olivier had even thought of what would have followed should he have followed the script of the film he had spoken of.

'I'd just kiss you and I wouldn't have to fucking explain anything else.'

He would have had to explain, for one thing, just why he wasn't reacting with any desire if René kissed him back, and that was not a conversation René really wanted to have at any point in his life, and most especially not with Olivier, whatever his good intentions.

"You're giving me that look," Oliver suddenly said. "It's that look you get just before you explain something to Isa or Kitty….the one that says, 'I'm going to explain to you exactly why you're an idiot, but do it so nicely that you won't feel insulted.'" He stalked over to the sideboard and poured himself a healthy shot of whisky, then drank it down, "Go ahead. Say it if you think you need to… for all the good it will do."

René, who hadn't the faintest idea of where to even start, closed his eyes for a moment of attempted thought, and then shook his head. "I don't actually think I can," he admitted. "It won't do any good. I just –" He broke off, and shook his head again. "Talk of emotions is all very well and good, and highly virtuous things they are too. But the way I feel about you quite often has damn all to do with any kind of pretence to that. You talk about kissing as some kind of solution – but that's what I mean when I say it's not the same for you. I'm not naturally celibate. I don't want relationships - or haven't," he added honestly, "– but that doesn't mean I don't want all the usual things that go with being in love with someone. I've been – Christ, I really have been! – trying not to think of you like that. Keller at least let me block that out. But you can't just talk of loving me as though it'll be some great answer to this. It's not even halfway to one, and I can't – I can't think about what you've said and not acknowledge that there is quite a lot of 'and the rest' to it for me."

Olivier suddenly began to chuckle, "God, is that what all your fine scruples boil down to? You think I have no idea? That, what? You'll touch me and I'll run screaming into the night in some kind of heterosexual panic?"

"No," René said, amused despite himself at the image, "but the thought did occur to me that you would have a wake-up call that would start you on a guilt trip I'd never be able to break you out of. I'm fairly serious about not wanting to wreck your life more than it has been. I also apparently have an aversion to letting you do it for yourself."

Olivier's expression softened and the look he gave René was suddenly so tender that it was almost frightening, "And that's why I love you. That, right there. Even when I think you're full of shit…"

René had absolutely no idea what he was talking about, and suspected he looked it. "Right," he said slowly. "Er...what?"

"Because you want to do what's right for other people…always. Even if it's not necessarily what's best for you." Oliver shrugged before he continued, "But it's still bullshit, René. Oh, I'm not saying that I want to go upstairs and have at it any time soon…I'd have no clue what I'm doing and one of us would probably wind up in more pain than just good sex should ever cause."

"Oh God," said René, and put his face in his hands. "Please stop talking."

"I could read books..."

"Stop talking!"

"Or watch films," Olivier continued, gleefully, and having far too much fun at René's expense for it to be in any way fair. René raised his head from his hands.

"Shut. Up," he said menacingly. Olivier was definitely laughing at him.

"Well… I suppose I could also find some way of getting practical experience...but only if I could find someone I trusted…" Olivier waggled his eyebrows at René.

"I hate you," René said wanly, and gave up arguing. "I hate you and I hope your tongue shrivels and falls out of your mouth and if you make one joke about that being a waste I really will thump you in the nose again."

Olivier, mercifully, swallowed whatever he was going to say. His expression said it all for him anyway, and René sighed. "At the risk of starting another row," he said, "and to completely change the subject, can we please accept, if nothing else, that I'm going to take up de Treville's offer? I know you don't want me to, but –"

"But you're going to test me right to the limit to make me prove I mean it," Olivier said, oddly without rancour. "Okay. We'll play this your way." He grinned, confident of victory, and René repressed a cringe. "For now."


It was the first day of René's consultancy…and the first renewed day of having to run a press gauntlet to get inside the building. Isa had watched Kitty come in and flirt with some of the photographers, de Treville's steady no-nonsense entrance, and Connie's elegant above-it-all stroll. And then there was René and Olivier. Olivier who seemed to have appointed himself René's body guard and was growling and hovering like a bitch with only one pup - and a bemused René, ignoring the press completely and laughing at him.

"And the prize for who can show their worst angle to the press goes to..." Isa announced as Olivier came in to the office, and generated a sardonic round of applause from Dufay's team.

"Can I have it in cash?" Olivier retorted. He was trying incredibly hard not to snarl, but the effect on those around him was a bit like watching people at the shark tank in an aquarium. They knew the things with sharp teeth that liked eating people couldn't really get at them, but they twitched all the time anyway.

"You can have a small, fish-shaped biscuit," Isa said. "It's got sesame seeds on it and has only been in my drawer for five days."

René, who had already walked over to the board and was looking at it as though it were a psychedelic trip in the making rather than a case profile, snorted.

"I'll pass." Olivier grunted. He took off his coat, turned on the computer and proceeded to do all his usual morning activities, although, to Isa at least, he still seemed to be very aware of what René was doing. Not that he was obvious, but there was just…something.

It was going to make for quite an interesting day, Isa was sure. "Have you solved it already?"

René turned and gave him a look that would have peeled and melted down paint. "Yes, Isa," he intoned. "Me and my third eye. And I'll give you the answer right after someone takes this board apart and starts from scratch, because this is absolutely useless and you all know it."

No-one even winced. The board had turned into a silly-string competition weeks back, as everyone pulled connections out of thin air and then left them up there as though time and proximity would make them valid.

"Ah, just leave it," said someone, and Isa ducked down behind his screen so that no-one would see him laughing. "It won't make any difference..."

"Really." René tilted his head a little, considering the board, then took a duster and wiped everything off, including dates, photographs and magnets, with two sweeps of his hand. "You think not?"

Olivier suddenly appeared at his shoulder and handed him a marker and a sheet of paper, "These are the basics… the dates and times of the murders, the piece of art he used and its particulars, locations… We've been through them all dozens of times, René. Do you want what we found when we checked out city events and rentals? Nothing quite seemed to match up… well, there were some events, but they didn't seem to have anything much in common."

"Yes," René said simply. "In readable form. Isa, stop laughing and put your profile up here – I don't care if it's basic, I want that up as key reference." They all stared at him. "Oh, for God's sake! Does anyone here do basic subtraction?"

"No," Dufay said. He was starting to look grimly, ominously happy. "They don't. Whatever they might tell you."

"Right, because it's so much more fun to desensitise yourself to post-mortem photos," René agreed. "They're irrelevant. The victims aren't the answer, you established that months ago, the only key to them is how they look. So the state of their intestines is absolutely pointless. I don't care if this lot all had a strange mutant form of cancer, the killer didn't care so nor do we. I don't care if they have happy families or tragic pasts, I don't care if they left behind distraught children or grieving single parents. The only thing we need to worry about is if the paintings were telling us that." He looked at the clean board, and grimaced. "And I need one of these for every scene."

Isa chuckled. Okay, so maybe watching Olivier wasn't going to be the only fun he had today, "Your wish is our command, oh super-spook. Come on, Olivier, we're going to give old Maitland down in Stores an aneurysm."

"Yeah, no shit," Olivier agreed. He was looking a bit stunned. "I thought we lived in a paperless world?"

"No more you don't," René said, and his smile was absolute evil. "From now on, everyone gets to see what their left hand is doing. This isn't a competition to be the best and the brightest and the only one to solve the case. This is where you catch a killer and stop him from doing it again. And you can't do that if everyone's got a different puzzle piece and hoards it like gold dust."

They didn't quite manage to give Maitland an aneurysm with their request, but they did return to find several of their fellow detectives looking more than a little bit shell-shocked, apparently having suffered under the whip-crack of René's tongue.

"It doesn't help us to have copies of the paintings in question if you've defaced them by drawing moustaches on the figures. Now take this down and have new colour copies made," René handed the man one of Isa's art books. "At least this big…and as clear as they can make it. And you – it doesn't have to be perfect but try to write so that someone besides you knows what the hell it says."

"We're supposed to have someone who does that for us," his victim muttered.

"Well, clearly you don't, so swallow your pride and start making it look like you give a damn," René said. "Look. There is no point in everyone tearing their hearts out over the victims and brushing off the killer with rugby club humour. It doesn't get anything done. If you have to make jokes, make them at your own expense – Christ, make them at the victim's expense if you have to, but not at the case. Whoever's doing this is sitting back right now congratulating himself on winning – and you know what? He's right. He's got everyone convinced that all we can do is wait for him to slip up when he's killed someone else, and we can't afford to think like that. We can do a hell of a lot more than wait for a mistake. We can start putting ourselves out there and making some of our own. Irritate him. Release false information. For fuck's sake, read Isa's profile, the man is an egotist – so bloody well hurt his ego! You've got press out there just longing for a story – give them one. Let them in on the fact the info's false. Get them on your side. Make whoever's turning Paris into his own personal installation feel that it's not just him against stupidity – he's not valued."

"He's kinda cute when he gets like that," Isa chuckled. "All fervent and shit…"

"I always thought so," Olivier replied, blandly. "Makes me hot, in any case."

"And I'm sure everyone wanted to know that," René said irritably, but the back of his neck was turning red.

Score one for Olivier Isa thought, amused – and then, looking at the red pen being used to underline places his profile could apply - and score one for me, too, apparently. Huh. So I did have a point after all...

Olivier picked up a blue marker and began going from board to board, making a column that listed city events that had taken place during those times, both governmental and privately organized. He paused after completing the first list and went back and placed a star next to those events that were directly related to art in some way.

René stared at the last painting used, the Toulouse-Lautrec, and Carina's careful crime-scene photography. "Is this the only place anyone found something that might belong to the killer?" he asked.

"Think so," Isa agreed, coming back from the left-hand board. "Um...let's see. Yeah. The stem cells were damaged, though, and it'd been dyed, so –"

"So even what we've got isn't going to be infallible," René agreed, making a face. "Still. It's something. You can add that to the profile –"

"I already got vain as fuck down," Isa said with a grin.

"Yes, but going grey and dying blond is – unusual," René pointed out. "If you're a man, anyway. This is someone who views everything as a canvas – so let's add his view of himself to that, yeah?"

"You think he might be trying to emulate a particular artist the same way he's emulating the art?" Olivier asked.

"That could fit," Isa said. "But which artist? He's used several different ones..."

"Maybe he's looking for the perfect fit to what he wants to portray," René said. "I mean, none of these are violent –"

"René, they're murders, that's pretty much the definition of –"

"The paintings aren't," Olivier said quietly. "They're – all about privacy. The illusion of it, anyway. The time after things have been said or done."

"Because that's what he's showing us," René said, and tapped the print. "The time after. Not the violence, not the passion, not the action-reaction of love or hate or death, but what comes after."

"Jilted lover?"

"Possibly, or at least disappointed."

"No… disappointed possibly, but jilted lovers usually take things more personally and the killings are somehow related to the love affair. These have all been peaceful."

They all three stared at the boards.

"We keep thinking about why," René said, and sighed. "What we need to know is how. How the hell is he finding somewhere to take these people and kill them and no-one notices? We know he does it reasonably quickly, before anyone's really sure they're missing, but how the hell is he getting them to wherever he sets all this up?"

"Maybe he just… invites them."

"Like to one of these events?"

"He'd have to plan in advance though… find the right people to fit the painting. And how does he ensure that they'll show up?" Olivier's expression said quite clearly that nothing on earth would persuade him to do so, so it had better be damned good.

"Offers a prize?"

"Yes, somehow I don't think sesame seed fish-shaped biscuits are going to cut it, Isa," René said with a faint smile.

"Funny man. No, I just mean – maybe he asks them to take part. Like a live performance, or posing for a photo, or –"

"But what if they say no?" Isa had to admit, it was a good sticking-point, even if it was getting annoying, but Olivier wasn't done. "Wait. Hang on. They do. They do say no. That's why there's so long in between the killings. He chooses another painting if he's refused..."

"Or another victim. Although that could take even longer."

They all three grew quiet.

"Hmmm…we need to add venues to that list." Olivier said. "Where the events are, as opposed to what."

"Then we need to figure out if they would help cover up what he's doing…or if they're part of…whatever he's revenging himself on."

"Assuming revenge is the motive."


"Yes," René echoed impatiently. "Whatever he's trying to bring to our attention, then, I thought I was the one who quibbled over verbs."

"I never quibble about motive." Olivier smiled at him. "No matter whose motive it is."

"Then you'd better make sure it's clear, hadn't you?'

Isa blinked and then looked back and forth between Olivier and René. They were certainly discussing something, but he was no longer sure it was the case.

"You can't have motive without expression, remember?" Olivier said, looking oddly triumphant, and went back to his desk. René looked up at Isa, and shook his head.

"Seriously," he said. "Don't."

"I'll go and find a venue list," Isa said, turning evasion into an art form of his very own, and went back to his own desk and his nice, ordinary, unchanging phone.

There was only so much revolution a man could be expected to stand in one day.


Subtlety, Olivier had to admit, had never been his strong point. He wasn't as blatant as Isa, quite, but if he wanted something he had the tendency to simply take whatever steps were necessary to accomplish his goal. He wanted to convince René that this wasn't a whim, so he took steps to make sure that René understood that.

First there were small things that René probably didn't even know about. Things like changing his emergency contact information and his beneficiary forms at work, removing Claire and putting René in her place. René's number was made speed-dial number one on his mobile. René's name was added to certain paperwork with his lawyer, giving René power of attorney in the case of Olivier's incapacity.

Then, Olivier made a mental list of things that René liked and began to offer them to him whenever possible. René liked things tidy, so Olivier did his best to break habits that caused messes, and when messes were unavoidable, he cleaned them up. René liked jazz, so Olivier got tickets to a performance of one of his favourite artists and presented them to him, nonchalantly, over breakfast. Two tickets, of course, but no suggestion that he should be the one to use the spare.

He was justifiably annoyed when Kitty announced how she would be spending her evening, and even more so when Isa started laughing helplessly while René stared at him as though he'd lost his mind.

Maybe Olivier should have complained less about 'things that don't even have a tune', and been a little less nonchalant about how he had acquired the tickets.

René, he decided, was the equivalent of a bat at noon when it came to other people's intentions. Either that, or he was doing a marvellous job in purposeful ignoring, and either seemed deliberately aimed at driving Olivier completely insane.

Still, he supposed, he should be glad that at least it was Kitty that René had asked and not some other man. A man who was not him. A man whose balls he probably would have felt inclined to rip off if he so much as touched René.

Oh yeah… he had it so bad.

And even though he wasn't inclined to try to own René…a little jealousy was only natural, wasn't it? Especially when René was denying that he even felt what he knew he did.

But then, if he was being fair (something which he was less and less inclined towards) René wasn't – exactly – denying anything. He was just....pretending the conversation had never taken place. The bastard probably thought he was being nice, or something, and Olivier wanted nothing more than to grab Brecht's damnable poem, wave it under René's nose, and demand how on earth his behaviour equated with the sentiments so succinctly expressed in it.

Of course, he would probably get a completely blank look, and a gentle enquiry as to why Olivier thought René's behaviour should match the poem in the first place, and then he would have to admit to his snooping, and that was a conversation he was definitely sensible enough not to try and have.

Olivier, however, was determined not to let René deny him. His next step involved exposure. Fortunately, although the spring weather was still damp, it had not been too cold to get outside – although it was certainly too damn bright to try it without sunglasses. And get out he did, running and exercising until his already fit body was toned to a degree he hadn't had since leaving the service. And he did what he could to show it off, wandering the house wearing little more than a pair of loosely tied sweats, slung low on his hips.

"Just try and remember that I'm not actually dead from the waist down as a general rule, and it'll be fine."

He remembered René's words and did his best to exploit them.

René, bereft of even an excuse to vanish into his study, now that he had made it so very clear every moment of progress on the case was to be shared as much as possible, started to mutter about wishing he could go blind.

Olivier happily upped the stakes once more and took fast and unexpected showers at odd points of the day, always timing it so that René was forced to see him wandering around in what he was forced to admit was an extremely ineffectual towel, whether for the purposes of drying or his non-existent modesty.

The morning René actually threw the tea towel at him and suggested he use that rather than what was actually a hand towel was either a victory or a prelude to violence, and Olivier was starting to think they were one and the same.

His final invasion was, of course, touch. Olivier did his best to completely forget what the term personal space meant, or that René actually had any. He brushed against René when they passed in the hall. He caressed fingers over any piece of skin that was offered (and some that weren't) and leaned in far too closely and intimately when they discussed evidence.

This last tactic was a bit of a two edged sword, often leaving Olivier himself with the reaction he was trying to engender in René.

And Isa just found it all too funny for words. All of it. Olivier's fitness regime, his casual almost-nudity, the constant touching - all of it had him in a semi-permanent state of near-giggle.

If Isa could work it out, why the hell couldn't René?

Olivier, in desperation, decided René needed to hone his skills at the shooting range. He got drastically outclassed with a revolver and his technique with a rifle criticised. René simply completed all the set targets that Olivier had thought would be only possible for him and therefore a source of admiration, pointed out every fraction of an inch that Olivier should be watching for, and went off to chat up the curator of the Picasso exhibition at the Louvre.

"Laugh it up, Isa," Olivier finally growled at him. "I'm so glad my suffering is giving you some hint of amusement, because I don't know what the hell else to do."

He really was beginning to feel despair, true despair, that nothing would ever work and he would spend the rest of his life loving René with no more thought of reciprocation than a distant smile. It ached in him, growing worse with every failed idea, because he knew that's exactly what he would do.

"You're not suffering," Isa said cheerfully. "Yet. Anyway, you're making a giant mistake which anyone who's tried to get someone's attention at any point in their lives has generally got over by the time they reach your horribly advanced age..." He trailed off and looked expectant, and Olivier sighed.

"Go on then," he said, propping his chin on his hands. "Enlighten me, oh fount of wisdom..."

"You're trying to do things differently," Isa said. "He fell for you, idiot. Right now he's probably wondering why, because you've gone through five personality transplants in the last week alone, but you've already got his attention. So back off, stop acting like a romance film without subtitles, and leave it to him to make a move."

"I'm going to be dead of old age," Olivier said grumpily.

"Yeah?" Isa snorted. "Claim to have a coffee date with a museum curator often, does he?"

Olivier suddenly felt terrified, "You don't think--? He did say date, didn't he? What if—? I mean of course, someone else… I guess. Oh Christ, Isa, am I losing what little sanity Claire didn't knock out of my head?"

He was an idiot and he was babbling and René had gone off on a date with someone else.

Or had he?

Isa thumped his head on the desk and whined. "He wants you to think he has," he said through a filter of most of a file's contents. "Which means you're having an effect. You said you were prepared to wait as long as it took for him to realise you were serious. So far, we've had weeks of showmanship that a peacock would envy, and now a stunning display of you at your best not-stepping-back-ever. For God's sake, Olivier. He wants to prove to you he's not out of his mind and can do his job. How the hell is he going to achieve that if you're trying to drive him insane?"

"I'm apparently very bad at being in love, Isa." Olivier just shook his head. "Thanks for having patience with me. I'll… try to be normal."

What he really should do was consider his behaviour towards Claire… then do the complete opposite on every point. That thought at least, made him laugh.

"And that's the worst idea you've had yet," Isa muttered to his papers, then looked up with a seraphic smile as Olivier threw the mini-stapler at him. "Missed. Seriously, though, you and normal? Such a bad, bad plan..."

"Oh, fuck off," said Olivier, contemplating the merits of a good sulk. Isa's smile widened into a grin. "Seriously, Isa. Stop helping."

"Oh no," Isa said, sitting up and folding his arms. "No, this is far too much fun to stop. Watching you get wound up over something that isn't your own intestines is just brilliance."

"Why are you my friend, again? Because seriously, you might try being helpful instead of laughing at me." Olivier slumped into his chair. "You could at least, give me advice on how to get Claire to stop fucking calling me at all hours. It's no wonder my ideas are crap, I'm sleep deprived."

"Yeahhh..." Isa actually looked guilty, which made no sense. "Er, about that."

"What, you told her to? Even you're not that cruel, Isa."

"Um, no," Isa agreed, but he still looked shifty. "See, you know how you told me she made that call and worked out you were going after René?"

"Right..." Olivier didn't know why that would make Isa look as though he'd been caught with his hand in the petty cash, but it was better than laughing any day.

"Yeah, well, I might have misled you on a minor little detail, before." Isa winced.

"What kind of minor detail?" Olivier was starting to feel quite genuinely suspicious.

"The one where I let you think I'd told René what his feelings were in the hospital?" Isa screwed his eyes shut. "It wasn't me. I mean, yes, it was me. But it wasn't me first. It was Claire."

"Claire was the one who---" Olivier just stared at him. "Fuck."


"And then she left him there, in the hospital and came home with those pictures." Oliver was trying to put two and two together. "That explains a lot, Isa. Really. She was losing control far too quickly. She brought me those pictures and that wild story and thought that if she was lucky, I'd finish the job that Interpol started, or at the very least, end my friendship with René."

He remembered those pictures, how his mind had gone blank with rage at the betrayal. But Claire had spun out the tale just a little too long, and logic had prevailed over jealousy, thank God.

"Yeah," Isa said tentatively, "well, no, but – yeah. Olivier, hasn't it occurred to you why we all worked out René was in love with you? Me, Claire, Kitty – even Lissa, who hardly saw him, worked it out in the end, it's why she stopped making you go on dates, not just because of how miserable you both were – and Klara seemed to be working out anyway – but because he was so unhappy. I mean, you never wondered? With him so closed off even when we got to know him, you never wondered how we knew before him?"

"What?" Olivier just stared at him. "You all...? God, am I really that blind? I'm supposed to be a detective, for Christ's sake, how could you all see it and I didn't?"

"Because we were watching him with you. We were watching the living embodiment of a keep off the grass sign respond to the way you behaved towards him, the way you treated him, and Olivier – you were treating him like a lover."

"I was what now?" Olivier looked at him incredulously. What the hell was Isa talking about? He had been very careful to treat René with every respect, to give him the space he seemed to want more than anything. It wasn't as though he had been behaving like Isa and hanging over the man at every turn or Kitty who couldn't keep her teasing touches to herself. He'd worked hard to keep that step show his friendship and, yes, admiration, in an acceptable fashion.

"You know his every reaction. You could probably time it. You knew when he was becoming Keller and you knew how to deal with it right up to the end – and don't try and tell me that didn't come from being scared of just what could happen to him and just how much you wanted him to be safe, because we both know it did. You lean close to him, you don't have personal space issues with him or need to touch to break through that. And if he needs close almost-contact, you've sensed it in seconds and you're there. You touch his arm once and his whole attention's on you. You two can create a privacy bubble without even talking. He protects you from saying things you'll regret and you cover up for him when he's lost for what he should do as himself. And sure, you might do that for a friend now and again, if they're going through a rough patch, but you do it all the time with him – and he's never once told you to stop. He's never backed off or put up an extra barrier to keep you out. He responds to it, he's warmed through by it, you can see him become more alive when you're around. So of course I knew. I was just very very surprised he didn't, because he knew how you were behaving and he must have known what him not minding meant – but he didn't. He must have got pretty fucking burned by someone, not to know what was happening to him. Not to know what you were doing. You're upping the ante now, or think you are, but truth is – you're not. You've always been gravitating towards him, it's just now – you're bringing sex into the equation as well." Isa shrugged. "And no, before you say anything, sex has nothing to do with treating someone like a lover. If it did, there'd be a lot fewer unhappy relationships where sex is being had twice daily."

"God, Isa," Olivier groaned. "Leave it to me. When it's not important I can manage it, but now when it is...No wonder René thinks I'm making this all up in my head. He thinks that now that he's telling me no and keep away, it's making me want him more. Am I really that juvenile?"

"No," Isa said serenely. "I don't think that, no, and no more does he. Your head took a bit of time to catch up with what you were doing, that's all, and he hasn't been letting himself feel, so know. Back off a bit. Give him time."

"I'll try." He gave Isa a crooked smile. "René needs a friend more than a lover at the moment, I'm thinking, with all the newspaper crap going on."

"Right," Isa agreed, and then – "Olivier, has it occurred to you to wonder how the bloody fucking hell du Plessis got his information? Because I have. I've wondered a lot. And I can't think of anyone else with that amount of knowledge who'd see René and the Interior go down in flames. It's like catching this guy." He waved his hand at the boards. "You know? Eventually we're going to hit on the right thing to worry about, and we'll have him. 'S why de Treville wanted René in, he's good at – maths. So I've been thinking about that, and thinking about Claire, and thinking - " He trailed off.

"Thinking what?" Olivier demanded, his mind reeling at Isa's leaps in deduction.

"I'm thinking you'd better get those divorce papers signed and screw the haggling over any more money," Isa said, deadly serious. "Before she puts in a counter-claim for infidelity that you can't disprove."

Olivier stared at him blankly for several long moments, "She would too, that hypocritical bitch. She'd claim it with a straight face and make them believe it."

And he would be too honourable to argue it, even if it wasn't true…because he wanted it to be, damn it!

"She'd drag René into it too," Oliver cringed at that idea. "Take away one more bit of his privacy to satisfy her ego."

"Yes she would," Isa agreed. "So you want my real advice? Cut her out of your life, Olivier. Finish it. Because until you do, René won't come near you. You want to give him something? Fuck jazz tickets. Hand him a copy of the decree absolute and let him know you're both free men."


René, who had been perfectly happy to let Olivier think whatever he liked about his meetings with the Picasso curator, had in fact been spending some of the most dismal hours of his life, on repeated afternoons, cribbing dates of installations and fin-de-siècle gallery openings that he was simply praying would have a bearing on the case so that he could stop having to listen to one more rehearsed speech on how fascinating it all was.

He knew why de Treville had wanted him, knew that he had a reputation for a fascination with minutiae that he would never be truly rid of, and knew that this was the only thing left to him if he wanted to prove himself in any field any more. He should have been flattered by the offer of a consultancy – he had been, originally – but the longer he worked on the case, he knew that he didn't have half the deductive skills necessary to be a real detective, and would be better off swapping positions with Kitty.

Or possibly giving it all up and getting a job at some immaculately clean office building where he could spend his days doing data entry on spotless keyboards like the mindless drudge he was beginning to resemble. He had the best of intentions, really, but Olivier was slowly wearing him down, if only from an amusement standpoint. He had begun making bets with himself about how much skin Olivier was going to show or how often he was going to be touched between the time he came downstairs and the time Olivier left for work.

Well, it would have been more amusing if he could honestly say that none of it affected him in the slightest.

He didn't want to concede yet, even simply to show that he had noticed, that he was paying attention – not only because he was still hesitant about believing Olivier's protestations, but because he felt that if he gave in, he would do so absolutely and irrevocably – and he was not ready for the inevitable results of that, not ready to accept that it was possible that even the final constant in his life, however self-imposed, would and could change.

It was that thought that made his face a blank slate when he re-entered the Sûreté that afternoon, notes in hand. That and a hushed air that seemed to hover over the busy room.

"No. No. That's it. I don't care anymore, just finish it today. Fine." Olivier was talking on the phone. Isa was at his own desk, pushing papers around and trying to look completely disinterested in what he could hear of the conversation. He was failing.

René walked to the white boards with his notes and began adding more data in his tidy script. Getting it up there in plain sight was the first step, then maybe, just maybe they'd see a pattern.

"Why," Olivier demanded of him, "why are we bothering? Why aren't we out there asking people, why aren't we – I mean, this isn't even using what we're good at, this is bullshit!"

His phone call had apparently done nothing whatsoever for his temper, but it was an incredible relief to see his normal behaviour restored.

"No, it's not," René said as calmly as he could manage. "This is what we have. This is what we can see. This is what's right in front of us and eventually we'll get the answer without harebrained speculation! And what do you mean, using what we're good at? You mean no-one's good at this? All our work's pointless because – what, we're crap at it? Oh, well then! Close the case, box it up and archive it, we're obviously never going to get anywhere, let's just give up, shall we?"

Apparently what he really wasn't very good at was staying calm in the face of constant provocation.

Olivier scowled at him, and it almost made René want to cheer, "No one's even suggesting we give up…except you. But we've gone over this and gone over this until I'm surprised that our eyes haven't cut paths down the boards. It's insane."

"What clued you in?" René asked. "The fact that sane people always kill multiple victims to create their own little art show?" He sighed, exasperated with himself and Olivier and the whole damn thing. "Look, bar some kind of amazing clue from God, we're stuck with this. So we work it and rework it until we see a pattern. Or rather we try. But sitting here commenting on how it's not working isn't actually that helpful..." He gave up. He was never going to make anyone, ever, see how invaluable it was to be able to rescan things at a glance – even Isa, who was happy to add single words to the profile in the hope of reaching some kind of clarity, had glazed over.

"Fine. Fine." Oliver scrubbed his hands over his eyes. "Isa, can you make some coffee? And we'll look at it again."

He held out his hand toward René, taking one of the sheets of notes, and began transcribing them onto another board, "Aside from this… I… I hope your date went okay."

"Yes, it was absolutely bloody marvellous," René snapped, tired and fed up and not particularly caring any more about playing whatever game this was today. "He's a fin-de-siècle expert, you stupid bastard, he's just the curator of the Picasso room temporarily because, unlike every other underpaid jobsworth there, he knows something about what he's doing!"

Isa, half-way to the little kitchen off the corridor outside, paused in the open door and turned round, frowning.

"No," he said, "the fin-de-siècle guy is that really superior twat who runs those classes I've been going to."

"Yes, the official one does, but the 'Picasso guy' –" despite himself, René's fingers rose to make little inverted quotes – "has things like an actual qualification as opposed to just having been alive long enough to get moved up the totem pole high enough to be allowed to inform the general public of things that cost them a fortune every time they want to listen. Plus, you know, that ten-year research trip your tutor made might have kept him out of the loop for a bit, but – oh. Oh my God. Oh, you are kidding me..." The last words were almost a groan as he realised just what he was saying. He had just described, almost to the letter, Isa's profile, which was staring at them all accusingly from the top of the main board.

Isa shook his head, slowly, and missing what was now seeming utterly, glaringly obvious to a horrified René.

"No – what...?"

"Jesus fucking wept, Isa, did it never occur to you to question him before you started paying forty Euros a class?" René howled in real despair. He couldn't believe that they'd had it, had the answer, had their man all this time, and never even thought -!

"I tried… I got sod all," Isa shrugged, unconcerned. "Been out of academia too long, I guess, to remember all the crap. Or maybe the psychology department is a bit different, since everyone expects people to have hidden agendas."

"Yes," Olivier said slowly, and, thank God, catching on to what was now hitting René like a sack of bricks marked 'Obvious', "but the fact you were talking to an art expert who you keep describing as a superior – git," he hastily amended, with a wary eye at de Treville's office, "should have raised a couple of flags. Hell, it should have raised a couple of flags with me, and what did I manage?"

"What, the first time I talked about him? Sex with Claire," Isa said unhelpfully.

"Ah, yes… that would… right…" Olivier turned back to the board to continue writing, but René could see a flush of colour seeping slowly down from the tips of his ears.

"Prove the ultimate distraction?" he offered dryly, because he knew damn well what Isa was doing, and if he couldn't fault the reasoning, he could damn well fault the timing. Just as his instincts had been screaming at him in the car that Gunter had sent for him and Claire in Rennes, they were screaming now, telling him that his leap of imagination was right, that Isa's tutor, despised for his superiority, was their man.

It obviously had proved the ultimate distraction once again, even though Olivier had been entirely on René's wavelength only moments previously, because the red deepened on his neck at René's off-hand remark, and he still refused to turn around. The board was apparently now a source of infinite fascination, though René wondered if he was seeing anything written on it. He pursued his angle, though, deliberately aiming for enough of a cause of irritation to snap Olivier back to immediacy. "Yeah, I can see that. And judging from Isa's little comment, everyone could see it for quite some time after."

"Will you just -!" Olivier whirled round from the board, and René grinned at him as nastily as he could.

"Shut the fuck up? Oh, no way. No way in hell. You've earned this in spades." He turned to Isa, who was looking thoroughly guilty, and modified the grin into a smile. "You too, art-lover. Go do what you're paid to."

"Um, solve crimes?" Isa asked a bit blankly, obviously still submerged in horror at his own mouth.

"Arrest people," René said. "Specifically, arrest your art teacher. Now."

"For what? Overcharging?" Even in the face of Isa's monumental blunder, apparently he had to joke.

"If you like," René said. "Mostly because he's at the very least a suspect in the killings and certainly fits your profile. But, you know, if you need a pretext..." He let his voice trail off. "Unfortunately, I can't do it myself. Or of course I would be delighted, having promised to assist in any way I can, which alas means no arrests, no questioning, and no fun."

"Come on, Isa." Olivier grabbed his coat and headed for the door. René would have been delighted at his alacrity if he had thought for one second it had anything to do with the case, and much less to do with his desire for escape.

For God's sake, he thought. It's him. I know it. I know it the way I knew before we reached the hangar, knew with all my mind and body that something was wrong, I know...

He wanted to add something, but couldn't think of what. His involvement with Olivier and Isa's handling of the case ended when they left the building, and he knew it. It silenced him more effectively than a gagging order would have done.

"I'll get started on a search warrant for his home and offices," Dufay called after the pair as they started out towards the corridor, confirming René's suspicions that the man was infinitely more alert than he ever appeared. "And you two –" They halted, and his voice dropped a little, serious and somehow robbing the atmosphere of any inclination towards the faintest hint at raillery – "I don't know if d'Herblay here's got it right, because I'm not psychic, but I know he's got a point, so – this isn't a fishing expedition, this is a genuine shot. You know the rules. Make it a clean arrest. I don't want any technicalities getting him out if this is the right guy."

"No, you think?" Isa asked the air, mouthed 'Sorry' at René, and headed out after Olivier.

"I hope you're right," Dufay said warningly to René. "Because you know what your other function is here, don't you?"

"Oh yes." René smiled at him tightly. "Official press scapegoat. Don't worry." He took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. "I know..."


Olivier loved Isaac. He really did. He loved him as a fellow officer, as a brother and as a friend. He loved his bluff sense of humour, loved his teasing and his jokes. He loved the way he always seemed to know when someone was feeling down and just how to cheer them up. He loved his casual strength and surprising gentleness. He usually even loved his blunt speech and matter-of-fact outlook.

But right now, love or not, he would gladly kill the man.

"I don't believe you, Isa. How could you--?" He growled at him.

"I really, really didn't think about it," Isa said gloomily. "Anyway, what were you planning on doing? Letting him find out from Claire? And yeah, yeah she would, before you try and get out of that one, she really would. Sounds better coming from someone who at least has the excuse of having a brain running in neutral and being shouted at, right?"

Isa was pretty much pathetic at excuses, even when he was right, Olivier reflected.

"I would have told him." Olivier grunted. "When the timing was better. And certainly not in the middle of the bullpen. It's bad enough that half my dirty laundry gets an airing there."

When the timing was better. He almost laughed at his own words. His timing would never be better. He was such a blundering idiot when it came to relationships that he often despaired of himself.

"Yeah, right," Isa said with a snort of disgust. "Because not like everyone there already knew or you have a complete assorted chocolate-box selection of people who are going to be all too happy to tell him just for shits and giggles, any time they feel like it. See, that's the problem with you and your phone calls, Olivier," he continued, warming to his theme, "I don't think there's a single solitary soul in the building, up to and including the poor buggers in Stores, who don't know every detail of your divorce proceedings."

"Thanks, Isa. You've made me feel so much better." Olivier grunted. Well, that would soon be over. He'd just told the lawyer to get it finished, to make whatever deals it would take, within reason, to get the divorce finalized. Then there would be no more phone calls, no more annoyances and no more Claire. He could settle in and work at convincing René that he loved him, that he wasn't a substitute nor an object of pity. And do it without the least bit of guilt, because he'd be legally free, not just mentally.

Isa, impervious to sarcasm, beamed at him with what Olivier just knew was deliberate obtuseness. "Glad to help," he said. "Which is, thinking about it, more than I've managed to do with the case. I mean, there's got to be something wrong with me, drawing up a profile and then missing the obvious..."

Olivier sighed. Isa shouldn't blame himself, since it wasn't as though he had been giving the case one hundred per cent of his attention either, all things considered. "You know the drill. People trust their authority figures and in this case your tutor was just that. He was the art authority, leading the class and easily overlooked as a suspect because of it. Hell, I knew you were taking the classes and that he knew about this style and I never made the connection either."

"Yeah, but –" Isa shook his head. "You know, I always thought it would be more like the books, yeah?"

"What, detective novels?" Olivier asked incredulously.

"No..." Isa said slowly, as though Olivier were hard of hearing or terminally thick, either of which might actually have been what he thought. "The books by people who analyse serial killers. The ones that tell you what to look for, all the signs – you know what? I sort of imagined the day I met one outside prison I'd be ticking mental boxes as fast as I could go."

"You met serial killers in prison?" Olivier blinked at him. "What kind of prison were you –"

"Okay, no, a serial killer. A very old serial killer who'd been there a very long time and pretty much had no use except as a case book study for us when we were training – but the point still stands."

"No. I suppose it's not like in the books. Nothing ever is, really. Not that. Not police work. Not soldiering. Nothing. No hail of bullets and the recognition of your peers. No clap on the back from anyone except maybe your commanding officer – on a good day – for a job well done." Olivier shook his head. "There's a lot more tedium and paperwork than anyone ever thinks about."

They pulled up at the museum and got out of the car. "Where do you 'spect we'll find him?"

"I don't know, Isa," Olivier said irritably. "You're the one who's been seeing him regularly, I thought you'd be able to lead us straight there..."

"Yeah, because that's really been my M.O. recently, hasn't it?" Isa asked with rare bitterness. "I suppose we ask. Oh wow, talking to people. Please let me do it, or they'll all run screaming..."

"Ha ha. Very funny." Olivier snapped at him, but didn't argue beyond that. He was perfectly aware of his current crappy mood and knew that wasn't what was needed to garner information, even if the thought of frightening this particular suspect certainly had its appeal.

"I know I am," Isa said. "My brilliance at comedy even amazes me – oh, hi." He turned his best and most charming smile on the woman at the information desk, and Olivier, with some irritation, watched her respond instinctively and smile back. No-one ever seemed to take the obvious course of action and smack Isa for being an inherent letch, which was a source of some amazement to him – they just seemed to appreciate the attention. "I need to speak to Monsieur Georges – is he in?"

"Monsieur Georges? Let me look." She pulled out a schedule book and skimmed down the pages for the current day. "I'm sorry. He's not at this location today, he's working over at L'échange d'art today, in one of their outside studios. Number Three it says here. Would you like me to take a message? Or page him for you?"

"Nah, that's all right." Isa's smile widened a little, the unholy, unfair little creases at the edges of his mouth deepening. Sometimes Olivier thought he got away with half of what he did because he looked so bloody innocent when he smiled, as though pleasurable evil would never cross his mind. "I'll go find him – think it's going to sound better in person anyway..."

"Oh dear. You're dropping his class?" The woman sighed. "It happens to him so often – I know he tries, but he's just so – I mean, he's very good, but he's –"

"A superior git," Olivier muttered to the beautiful design on the tiled floor, and she laughed.

"Um, actually? Yeah. But don't let on I said that, okay?"

"Your secret is safe with us." Isa winked at her and she blushed, quite prettily Olivier had to admit.

"Thank you, ma'am." Olivier nodded at her and grabbed Isa by the elbow to pull him toward the door. "You know where this place is? Will it be easy for him to bolt if he sees us coming?"

"Yes, what, I guess, in that order, and what again? Do I look like a studio expert? Do I look like a man who can judge the trajectory of windows? Do I look like I know if this man is going to fling himself out through reinforced glass doors to escape us? Come on, Olivier, give me a break, up until half an hour ago I just thought he was the most boring man on the planet and was busy looking at potential suspects in the class!"

"A simple 'I don't know' would have been more than enough." Olivier grumbled. He'd said easy… jumping through windows or smashing glass wasn't high on the easy score board in his book. It was apparently another one of his say nothing right days. He seemed to be having a lot of those.

"Okay," Isa said sweetly. "I. Don't. Know. But I do know where the studio is, so yay me."

"Right," Olivier sighed. "Are you going to tell me, or is it a state secret?"

"It's just outside Montmartre," Isa said unhelpfully, and Olivier glared at him.

"Okay, clever clogs," he said, throwing the keys at him and noting Isa's grimace of pain as they hit his chest with no small amount of pleasure, "You can damn well get us there, then."

The trip was fairly quick since they were late enough to have missed the worst of the morning traffic, and conducted mostly in silence, both of them lost in their own thoughts. For Olivier it was a long slow mulling over of how to explain in a calm sensible manner, something that was neither calm nor sensible. He still didn't know how he'd wound up on the floor of his living room, rutting with Claire in mindless lust. One moment they'd been arguing over the disposition of household items and the next--- He still didn't know how he'd let it happen, René aside, because afterwards he felt dirty and angry and disgusted with himself. How could you explain something like that?

At the time, even as he drove home in a fog of uncomprehending denial, he had thought that the one person who might have understood was René – simply because he was the only other person of Olivier's acquaintance who knew how Claire operated. But there hadn't been a trace of sympathy in his expression after Isa's little bombshell, no attempt at understanding or empathy, just a kind of general frustrated anger with the whole situation.

On the other hand, it hadn't exactly been the best of circumstances for him to even try to assimilate Isa's comment. He had been focusing on the case, not anything personal, and it was entirely possible that he had found Isa's non sequitur just as infuriating as Olivier had done – though for completely different reasons. René might understand motive, but he had very little patience with it intruding on his work – Olivier knew that as surely as he knew that if he had chosen any other time for his unforgiveable outburst in the kitchen, René would simply have waited for him to finish and then tried to pick apart what he was actually annoyed about. But he had been working a twenty-four hour day, literally sleeping and breathing Keller, and Olivier had been a distraction, not a friend.

It had been the same in the offices. His response had been completely impersonal, an automatic flick of the mind to brush irrelevancies away while he tried to focus on how they could all have missed the clues that had been right in front of them. Isa had been letting his mouth work his defence for him, Olivier had fallen back into the safe haven of anger, and René into – detachment. Not because any of them really felt it, Olivier understood as he watched the buildings move past the car, but because that was their default mechanisms when they were letting their minds work over something outside them.

He was finally beginning to see why de Treville had wanted them to work together. No-one else – including Dufay – could tolerate their outward personas, nor being to understand it or forgive it.

He had been, he realised, damn close to the point of having failed to do that himself.



Isa had no idea what Olivier was thinking about, but he could have taken a guess it had very little to do with the case and was mostly based around his sense of injury. He knew he shouldn't have said what he had, but since he couldn't take it back and he hadn't meant to do anything but deflect attention from himself while he came to terms with just how stupid he had been, he thought Olivier could cut him a little slack and stop treating him like some kind of treacherous swine with no sense of friendship.

It was making it, among other things, extremely difficult for him to be as focused as he needed to, and he was uncomfortably aware that it was all ensuring they were neither of them in an even remotely appropriate state of mind to apprehend a suspect. Because if René's suspicions – if his own suspicions, come to that – were right, then they were going to need absolute concentration on the man they were going to see, and damn all sense of personal propriety or hurt feelings.

He was about to say as much to Olivier as they pulled up near the studio, but as often seemed to happen, they were apparently on the same wavelength.

"Sorry, I'm being such a shit, Isa." Olivier grumbled out as he opened his door. "You know I don't mean it, I've just got too much on my mind…which is no real excuse."

"Right now, not really," Isa agreed, "but I'm not doing that well at switching off either, so we'll call it a draw on idiocy and get our heads straight, yeah?" He grinned, unable to stop himself. "Okay, so in your case that's an ability long since left you, but –"

Olivier stared at him, and then started to laugh. "Or I could try that and you could connect your brain to your mouth?" he suggested.

"Oh, they're connected alright, just too directly. I think it and it just comes spewing out. What I need is a buffer," Isa chuckled good-naturedly. "But I'm sorry for blurting that out in front of René."

"It'll be okay. Or it won't." Olivier shrugged. "René's an adult…mostly."

"Mostly being the operative word?" Isa asked, and they both had to laugh at that too.

"And now we've alerted Georges to the fact there's a couple of lunatics outside his studio..." Olivier said with a small roll of his shoulders, "maybe we could –"

"Do what the super-spook told us and go arrest people?" Isa suggested. "Yeah, I was thinking that. You know he's probably mad as hell that he doesn't get to join in this bit, don't you?" It was a source of rather evil amusement to him. René hated nothing more than having no say or control over events, and this was probably top of the list in how little he wanted that aspect of his personality displayed.

"Mad with a side order of frustrated pouting," Olivier agreed. "Looks like there is a back door. You want that? Or do you think he's too egotistical to think we're on to him?

Isa raised an eyebrow, but they both spoke the next words together, "Too egotistical."

"Anyway, the front door's more fun," Isa had to point out. "We haven't really got to do the whole show-our-badges thing yet, remember? So this is sort of the perfect opportunity to get cool detective points."

"Isa?" Olivier was giving him a really odd look. Isa blinked at him.


"Never mind. Just – try and remember the right words, okay?"

"Will do."

Olivier knocked on the door, but it was opened, not by the tutor, but by a younger man. A teaching assistant was Isa's guess, and he wondered whose wrong side the guy had gotten on to be assigned to Georges.


"Is Monsieur Georges here?" Olivier asked. "We need to speak with him."

They both showed their badges and the young man looked surprised, but not apprehensive in any way. As a matter of fact, Isa would have said that bemused glee would have been a better description.

"Yeah, he's in the back," he said cheerfully, standing aside. "Come on in. What's he done?"

There was actually no possible way of answering that.

"We just need to speak with him," Olivier hedged.

The young man chuckled, "Be prepared to do a lot more listening than talking."

"He is a bit chatty," Isa agreed.

"More like… enamoured with the sound of his own voice." He called out toward what must have been the work part of the studio, "Monsieur? There are two gentlemen here to see you."

"In a minute..." came the vague and horribly ordinary-sounding response. Isa, for want of anything better to do – like run in there and start shaking the man until he confesses to everything including the invention of the atom bomb - started wandering rather aimlessly around the room, picking things up at random and putting them back down again. He thought that René would have probably smacked him by now.

"So what do you do around here?" Olivier asked, having apparently dredged whatever passed for his resources of conversation and come up with banality.

"Oh, he's doing some kind of project," the young man said. "Mostly seems to focus on taking photos of my shoulder, but there we go, it's money..."

"Artists, eh?" Olivier nodded as if in complete understanding. Isa barely managed to choke back a laugh.

"Jeremy, if you want to get lunch now is the time. I told you I wanted to get back to work as—Oh, hello." The man looking through the arched doorway seemed surprised to see them.

"Okay, Monsieur… I'll be back later," the young man scurried out the door as if released from bondage.

"Aren't you one of my students?" Monsieur Georges blinked at Isa.

"Yeah," Isa said, not really sure where to go from there. Olivier had no such problems.

"Is French your first language?" he asked abruptly. Georges stared at him.

"Yeeees," he said slowly. "Why -?"

"Are you in any need of a physician?"


"You are under arrest, and as a suspect you are not bound by oath. There will be no charges of perjury made against you no matter what you say from this point on. You have the right to an attorney. If you don't happen to know an attorney, we have to appoint one to you. Which means no matter what you might feel like, you're getting an attorney. Isa, do you know an attorney?"

"Er, yes, Olivier, so do you," Isa said, wondering how the hell an official arrest translated into a discussion about attorneys. "Several."

"I'm terribly sorry, is this some kind of practical joke?" asked Georges.

"Do I look like I'm joking?" Olivier's face was indeed grim and serious.

"No…but…" the man was back through the archway before Olivier could grab him.

"Fuck…Isa, call for back up." Olivier ducked through after Georges, keeping low.

Isa ran out the front door and around the side of the building, dialling as he ran. He gave his request and location, then moved towards the backdoor, planning on coming up behind their suspect.

It was a definite shock when he was grabbed and slammed up against the wall, his arms behind his back, and his legs kicked apart before he could even try to move.

"You," snarled a voice in his ear, "are under arrest."

"What the fuck?" Isa howled, his face mashed into stone. "Get off me, you raving lunatic!"

"Is French your native language?" The man began.

"I'm a police officer, you idiot. And my partner's inside."

"Is French your native language?" The man repeated.

"Yes… but I'm beginning to doubt it's yours!" Isa dropped down when he heard the man go for his cuffs, throwing him off balance.

Abandoning procedure in favour of a full-on attack, the man hurled himself at Isa's side, sending them both to the damp ground.

"Get off me!" Isa roared, as the man rolled on top of him. He was unwilling to start hitting and not very convinced he had any other option. "My name is Detective du Vallon, I'm in the middle of apprehending a suspect, and you are starting to seriously piss me off – who the fuck are you?"

"Officer Rochet," the man said breathlessly. "And acting on information given to me by the Interior –"

"Oh you are fucking joking -!"

"- I am placing you under arrest on suspicion of aiding and abetting a known criminal."

"You are out – of – your - mind is what you are!"

Isa heaved backwards, using his superior weight and strength to flip their positions. His hands were still pinned but he was now on top of the other man, and had a bit more leverage. "I have identification – "

Suddenly there was the crack of a gun from inside the building.

"Fuck!" Isa smashed his head back into the other man, hitting his nose if the pained scream was any indication.

"Isa, what the hell are you doing out there?" Olivier's voice shouted distantly.

"I'll – show it to you later," Isa said hurriedly, and scrambled to his feet, skidding a bit on the wet grass.

There was another shot, followed by the sound of broken glass.

Rochet was clutching his nose. It would serve the man right if it was broken, Isa thought unsympathetically as he edged the door open and slipped inside.

The middle of the studio was open, but there was plenty of cover around the sides. He could just see Olivier ducked down behind a cabinet near the archway. He wasn't sure about their suspect, but he could hear noises that indicated he was in the far corner, far away from both Olivier and the back door.

"Please throw down your weapon," Isa called, in hopeless hope and sticking to the rules in spite of every provocation ever, "and come out with your hands up."

Olivier threw him a glance of complete disbelief. Isa shrugged.

"I had to try -" he started, and then threw himself behind a far-too-flimsy bookcase as the next bullet came past his face. "Hey!"

"You'll never take me alive!" Georges' voice rang over the room.

"Okay. You've been watching way too many late night movies, Monsieur Georges," Isa called out to him. "You're going to run out of bullets and then what? "

He moved from behind the bookcase, crawling along the floor to hide behind, of all things, some kind of prop barrow or flower cart. He glanced back to see Olivier had moved as well.

"Can we shoot him then?" Olivier asked irritably. "Because he is really starting to get on my nerves..."

"No shit," said Isa, as Georges fired again. "Also, he is a really crap shot. Just saying. For the record. Are we recording this?"

"What do you think?" Olivier asked.

"I think not even you're that mad," Isa said honestly.

"Yeah, well done..."

Isa suddenly grinned, then grabbed the handles of the flower cart pushing it ahead of him like a shield. Three more shots flew towards him, but only one actually even came close, lodging in the cart's awning. Then all he heard were clicks and the sounds of scrabbling as Georges attempted to climb up to a rear window.

Isa rose from behind the flower cart, and shook his head in amazement. How anyone could think that climbing up a blank, damp-proofed wall was going to be possible was beyond him even by the adjusted degrees of stupidity that the day had so far forced him to make. Olivier came up behind him, and made an irritated little sound expressive of a great many feelings, none of which included satisfaction.

"Oh, get your arse down here before I shoot it," said Olivier, sounding fed up past all bearing. Isa cast a glance at him, and saw that he was actually serious.

"Olivier, you can't –"

"Oh yes I can," Olivier said. "We're not recording, remember? So I can shoot him in the arse if I want..."

Isa tried very hard not to laugh. It was a battle he was very much afraid he was about to lose. "No, you can't," he said patiently. "Georges, get down. He's bored enough to do just what he says."


"Yes, bored." Olivier agreed. "After your last little excursion into macabre art, it was just a matter of narrowing down the suspects. Really."

Isa hid his laughter behind a faked yawn.

"You're lying. My work was magnificent. No one else could have been as patient as I was, as diligent about details."

"Yeah, but direct copying is amazingly tedious," Olivier said. "I mean, sure, full marks for getting it spot on right, but I'd rather look at the originals. At least Carina can't autopsy a painting." He looked back at Isa. "I think..." he added dubiously.

"Yeah, I don't actually want to speculate, thanks," Isa said quickly.

"You autopsied – you destroyed my –"

"Yeah," Olivier said bluntly, "because that is, actually, what we do with dead people."

"Well, not all dead people," Isa interjected.

"No, right, just murdered dead people," Olivier agreed. "So, you know. We might have wrecked some of the details in the process. You know how it goes..."

"You! You!" Georges sputtered. "I spent days… weeks…on some of those elements. I hand stitched the quilt. I searched every shop in Paris for just the right shade of yellow for the flowers I used in the first one. And you… you…"

"Well, not us personally," Isa admitted. "But really… couldn't leave a couple of stiffs sitting in the middle of Montmartre."

"Have you any idea what you've done?" Georges shouted, and stopped his attempts to escape completely, taking a step forward to face them. "It's people like you who deface masterpieces and call it art alteration!"

"Yeah, actually that's not quite right. More like it's people like us who put people like you in jail for years and years," Olivier said, and raised his gun a little. "Now put your hands over your head and turn to face that wall properly, or I swear to God the next bullet goes between your eyes and I claim self-defence."

In the end they got him handcuffed and out with little more fuss, aside from his endless tirade on the low/wrong/exploitive view of art in the modern age. Their backup arrived just in time to take him off their hands.

"That," said Isa, "is a complete case of clinical obsessive insanity. I know he's a murderer, but seriously, even without that little quirk, he's a total nutter. And yes, that's my professional opinion. How the fuck did I miss it? How did he function?"

"I suppose you just never criticised him before," Olivier said, not sounding very interested. It seemed that his involvement with, and interest in cases was going to end when his participation did. "Speaking of nutters, who's the guy with the broken nose that's scowling at you so fiercely?"

"Officer Rochet," Isa said with a shrug. "He's under orders from the Interior, can you believe – oh fuck, Olivier, no – leave it!"

"Fuck, yes…and no way." Olivier looked at him grimly until Isa threw up his hands in resignation, and stalked toward Rochet. "Call René. Tell him…. Shit, I don't know. Just tell him. I'm going to have a talk with Mr. Under-Orders."

"And I was having such a lovely day," Isa mourned, pulling out his mobile and discovering that it was now no longer worthy of the term. Apparently Rochet had got revenge for his nose in first. "Oh, hell...Olivier, give me your phone, would you?"

Olivier passed it over, and Isa hit the speed dial, "René? No, Isa. Yes… we seem to have a little bit of a problem."

Really, he was becoming quite adept at the use of understatement.


René did not, he discovered, do waiting with any kind of grace. Dufay might have thought his reminder of just why he was being used as a consultant a timely note, a quiet kind of caution to be interjected into his mental high, but it had instead sent him crashing down back into despair, as he was forced to deal with the fact that he still had no formal use to anyone other than as a kind of walking collection of rules and analyses.

Desperate for distraction, he was instead confronted by a wide array of unpalatable facts, such as the way he could not log on to the computer system, his lack of all technical connections of the kind he was used to, and the way everyone was still looking at him slightly warily, as though he were about to destroy all their hard work and betray them outright.

It was getting to the point where he would have happily taken up Keller's smoking habit again, just for a few moments' respite from the tense atmosphere, but de Treville's sudden unwanted appearance from his office put a stop to all such thoughts of escape.

"We need to talk, d'Herblay. Now."

A few simple words, none of which gave René any idea as to what de Treville might want or why he felt it was imperative that it take place just then. But, in spite of the fact that the Captain had authority over him in only the loosest of terms, René didn't feel free to ignore the summons.

"Right, because now is obviously the ideal time for a heart-to-heart, if there is an ideal time for that sort of thing," he muttered. If de Treville was going to tell him that he was responsible for Olivier's peculiar behaviour, he was going to tell the man to take a running jump, technical superior or not.

As it turned out, the subject that de Treville wanted to discuss was as far from that unwanted topic as it was surprising. René already had a genuine respect for the Captain and the fact that he had managed to turn such a disparate mix of personalities into a cohesive functioning whole, but after their conversation, he almost had to laugh at the sly wisdom the man exhibited, quite apart from any connection to himself.

Dufay greeted him on his re-emergence from the inner sanctum that was de Treville's incredibly odd office with a small smile.

"Taking the job?" he asked quietly, and everything stopped around them as general curiosity became the order of the day.

"Of course," René said, trying not to smile in return. The question was fairly redundant, since he was carrying a gun and badge, but he supposed Dufay could be forgiven for thinking it might be as temporary as it had been made clear his presence was supposed to be.

"Thought you might," Dufay agreed. "He's got good timing, too."

"Yes, I was actually thinking more along the lines of atrocious, since a few minutes earlier and I could have gone to make the arrest, but far be it from me to argue..."

Dufay just smirked at him. "They've called it in," he said. "Which means you get to claim part-credit..."

And, René thought with a smirk, de Treville gets to make the Interior's loss into the Sûreté's gain - as well as allowing the solved case to give him a cachet that he might otherwise have had to struggle for. "Everyone worked hard on this one, Dufay. You should be proud of your team."

My team. Although he'd only been peripheral through most of the case, he still felt pride for them all…and an honest thrill that he'd soon be officially a part of them, and no longer 'just' a consultant.

Dufay gave him an odd look, but refrained from comment, for which René was thoroughly grateful, realising how arrogant he had just sounded. He was not averse to being thought arrogant, had gone to great lengths to cultivate just that in the past, but he preferred the effect to be deliberate.

It was a relief when his phone rang, preventing any further attempts at conversation.

"Olivier?" he asked, cutting across the sound of his own name on the other end.

"No, it's Isa," came the reply, and René took the phone away from his ear to check the name in the display. On seeing that no, he hadn't gone blind, he shrugged and filed that one away under the heading of 'things it's not worth worrying about'.

"You got him?"

"Yes..." Isa said, sounding oddly hesitant, and then, "...we seem to have a little bit of a problem."

"Right..." René was more than ever convinced that this had nothing to do with the case and was going to be something he never wanted to hear, and Isa's next words confirmed it.

"See, there's this officer, and he says he got information from the Interior, and he tried to arrest me –"

"He what?"

"Yeah, I know, but you can't legislate against stupidity – anyway, I told Olivier –"

"Because you have rocks in your head, yes, of course you did," René agreed.

"Shut up," Isa grumbled. "Anyway, I think he's going to kill him."

"Right. Fine. Don't let him? Just a suggestion."

"Yeah, I wasn't actually –"

"Isa?" René asked with very forced patience.


"Why are you telling me this?"

" case you wanted to know?"

"I don't," René said with enormous honesty. "Just...don't let Olivier kill him and get back here, would you?"

"Can I let Olivier hurt him? Just a bit?" Isa's voice teased back over the phone. "Just enough to get him to replace my phone? He broke it after all."


"Yes. No killing. Back to the office." Isa replied with a much put upon sigh.

"Thank you so much," René said with false and exaggerated gratitude, and ended the call. Dufay was, by now, outright grinning at him. "What?"

"You know when people say 'I'm going to watch your career with interest', and it's meant as a compliment?" Dufay replied.

"Yes?" René asked tentatively.

"It's not. It means exactly that. Lots and lots of interest..." Dufay shook his head. "And now I have to go and read the charges downstairs. And get a lawyer – unless you want to -?"

"No, no, that's entirely your pleasure," René said quickly. No matter what department he was in, he had the feeling that dealing with assigned defence lawyers was probably equally as tedious.

"Ah well, it was worth a try at least," Dufay grinned and headed for the door, waggling his fingers at René.

"Usually," a voice with low tones was suddenly and unexpectedly far too close. It was only his sure knowledge that he was safe and recognition of the owner of the voice that kept René from reacting in some inappropriately physical way. "Usually they go to Maquet's after a case. Do you know the place?"

René looked back at de Treville, "Yes."

"And you didn't punch me in the nose," de Treville said with a far-too-knowing little grin. "Is that progress or are you slipping?"

"Yes," René said simply, and went to get his jacket.


People from the Interior did not frequent Maquet's, or any particular spot actually. It was all part of the game they played, never congregating, never being predictable in any way. He did, however, know of the place. It was a place to go for good, if plain, food and drinks. No cocktails here, just beer and wine and liquor on the rocks or straight up. It was the Sûreté's particular hang out, a place to swap stories or commiserations, to celebrate success or toast in memory of friends lost in the line of duty. Only here would you find both detectives and uniformed police, not completely intermingled, but with enough mutual respect to share the space. It was all heavy tables and heavy glasses and no one ever complained about the smoke. No juke box or piped in music to disturb what the place was meant to be – a place for comradeship, shared disasters or triumphs and all taken and smoothed out into a kind of collective empathy.

It was astounding how much more confident he felt with the tenuous authority of inclusion granted to him by the simple merit of carrying an official weapon and a badge – though no-one could see either at first glance. He had felt, handing in both at the Interior, as though he were giving away more than his power to act as an agent of the law, but his identity – as though all his time undercover, pretending to be something he was not, all his efforts to become the perfect blank slate, had culminated in a moment of becoming no-one at all. Now he had that restored to him – or a version thereof – and he wondered if, unlike the trappings of his new position, it showed.

"René!" A blonde missile was launched in his direction and he found his arms full of Kitty Godin. "You all did such a great job. Come on and have a drink. Isa's buying."

"I'm what now?" Isa looked up at her.

"Buying. Your turn."

"Ah. What'll it be, René?"

It was all so easy, the acceptance they had of his presence, even unknowing of his new status as officially part of the team. It still had the power to overwhelm him, and, drowning in that unfamiliar acceptance, he had a moment of quiet, pure panic where he couldn't think of what he drank now, couldn't remember what he actually liked when he was out and didn't have his drinks cabinet available so that he didn't have to think.

"I –" he started, and froze, his mind suddenly empty of everything but the desire not to be judged by how he might be different. He cast a single, harried glance at the table, and saw nothing but empty glasses and no help.

"They have Zyr vodka," Olivier said, apparently apropos of nothing. "Which they remember to freeze every other day."

René closed his eyes in brief, complete gratitude.

"Right," said Isa, having apparently noticed nothing wrong. "Only that comes in kind of small glasses, yeah, so –"

"So ask the nice barman for a normal glass of it with a lot of ice, Isa," Kitty said with an eye roll. "God. Did you know he actually worked here at one point to get some extra money? I swear they just kept him on for the pretty, cause damn he's crap at actually getting drinks...."

Isa, to René's enormous delight, went red.

"Yes, that." René told him, almost relieved to have the choice taken away. He let Kitty pull him down into a seat and then studied the faces around him. Kitty and Isa, of course, and Connie, her presence welcomed as an adjunct to her father and her secretarial position at the Sûreté. He wondered if Lissa was ever included in trips here, since she'd probably patched up half of its occupants. He thought she'd hate the smoke, but then again, she made surprising exceptions in all kinds of areas, so perhaps this was one.

And Olivier.

Olivier, who seemed to know not only what he'd like to drink, but that he'd need help still at making that decision. Oliver who understood that he was still close enough to Keller to have moments of confusion. Olivier was there.

"Did you kill the poor unfortunate who was unwise enough to try and arrest Isa?" he asked, and was strangely disappointed, as well as relieved, when his voice sounded as it always did, rather than carrying within it any hint of what he had been thinking and feeling.

"No," Olivier's voice was a deep growl. "Even as annoying as he was, he was being played."

Dark eyes lifted and sought out René's, the unvoiced addendum, "played by Claire", hanging between them. It was just one more thing to lay at her doorstep, unprovable, but also unmistakable.

"Ah." René made a face at the empty glasses. "Truly an unfortunate, then. And the arrest was – well, apparently fast, even if I'm wrong in thinking it was easy –"

"Yeah, that would be the bit where we got a confession because he couldn't wait to let us know how stupid we were," Olivier broke in, and there was a kind of despairing amusement in his voice. "Seriously. We are very under-appreciative."

René choked a little. "You are?"

"Yes, and also we would deface masterpieces and call it art alteration," Olivier continued, straight-faced.

"I'm sure you would," René agreed, nodding in agreement, and Olivier gave up all his attempts to look solemn and folded over in laughter.

Isa returned with the drinks and together he and Olivier gave a quick tag-team rendition of 'The Arrest of Monsieur Georges'. It appeared, if their laughter were to be any indication, to be high farce.

"And then he says, 'You'll never take me alive.' Like he was Jimmy Cagney or something."

"And Isa charged at him, pushing the barrow in front of him."

"Barrow?" René asked in bewilderment. The vodka had probably tasted of something pleasant before it was frozen and poured over an entire glass of ice, but it was now simply brain-numbingly cold. He really felt he didn't need the help.

"Like a – flower trolley thing," Isa said, his hands waving descriptively. "I think it was going to be in his next painting – shit, you realise that guy was probably the next one, yeah?"

"What, Mr. 'He likes to take pictures of my shoulder'?" Olivier asked, and René stared between them.


"Yeah, the guy who opened the door - anyway, yeah, probably was."

There was a long moment of silence.

"Christ," Olivier finally spoke. "He's just a kid. If we hadn't… I mean if René hadn't… Christ."

"I'm going to have nightmares about flower carts and damn it young men's shoulders, which is just… wrong." Isa shuddered.

René should have been able to stop himself. He really should. He couldn't even blame the vodka for what he next said. "Um....Isa? The shoulder bit? Are you sure you're talking about nightmares?"

Isa did a remarkable impression of a fish. Olivier narrowed his eyes.

"Young men's shoulders? How young is that?" he demanded.

"Ah –"

"Are you two flirting?" Kitty demanded suspiciously, and Olivier's false annoyance disappeared into something a lot more uncertain.

"I – no, we – Kitty, shut –"

"Actually," René said, almost unstrung with the sudden rush of adrenaline, "you know what, Kitty? I think we are. Well, I am."

"I may be too out of practice to be sure." Olivier said, his nervous smile was still sincere. "But I'd certainly like to try."

"I'm so very sorry I asked," Kitty said with equal sincerity, before René could say anything in response that would make him sound like a half-wit. He was incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be quiet. "But thank you for the enlightenment. Really. I'm going to go and join Isa in the not-really-nightmares corner now..."

Olivier leaned in closer to René, "Maybe we could, you know, practice… someplace else?"

He said it like someone who was more than willing to be turned down, was almost positive, in fact, that he would be.

"Practising is definitely for someplace else," René agreed. "Right now we're not practising, we're celebrating, and I think we might actually end up dead and not able to practise anything ever again if we decided to go someplace else right now."

He hoped that had made sense somewhere that was not the inside of his head. He was fairly sure it had sounded like complete gibberish to anyone who wasn't him.

Olivier looked over to where Isa, trapped between Kitty and Connie, was giving yet another rendition of the arrest, only this time it was his encounter with Rochet.

"Yes… celebration," Olivier lifted his glass. "I…meant to ask if de Treville had said anything about you continuing as a consultant. We could really use you….if you want to stay, I mean."

"He doesn't want me as a consultant," René said, and then made a face at himself. "I – well, I suppose he does, but not an outside one. He's employed me. I'm really not sure what as, because I always thought you had to go through some kind of hideous qualification process, but he's employed me." He sounded rather flat, compared to how he felt, as though his tongue were doing his editing for him, stopping anything he might feel from showing through. He thought that he might as well have been reciting the phone book, the way he had just sounded, and felt a sort of lunatic misery at his own inability, because if he couldn't even convey his pleasure at something so integral to his life, then what chance did he stand at actually flirting, wherever he tried to continue it?

"You…." Olivier looked completely nonplussed. "You're going to be working with me…with us? I… that's wonderful, René. Really."

His expression became surer, as he finished speaking, warmth suffusing every word. "Isa! De Treville's hired René, damn him. No more going to the movies at lunch."

"I suppose that cuts out our four o'clock tee times too, eh?" Isa grinned back. "And I just had my spikes replaced."

"I'll play with you," Kitty said in fake commiseration. "I might not be responsible for what I actually do with the clubs, but I'll play with you..."

"You play with my head," Isa moaned. "Stop it."

The rest of the evening was spent on too many drinks and increasingly extravagant toasts. René was introduced to far too many people whose names he would probably never remember but who all insisted on buying him a drink. It was close to one in the morning by the time he and Olivier finally stumbled through the front door, an annoyingly sober Lissa having picked them all up after her shift.

"I don't think I've ever been this drunk in my life," René said, or at least thought he approximately said. It was becoming increasingly hard to remember in more than two-second spans what he was doing, let alone trying to say.

"Don't worry," Olivier assured him, "I'll make sure no one takes advantage of your inebre-- inebre-- drunkenness. I'll kick 'em in the 'nads."

And apparently he found that image hilarious, sinking down on the couch in a giggling heap.

René thought he should probably hit him, but somehow didn't think he had the co-ordination necessary to even think about trying.

"Very heroic," he said with a mammoth effort at clear enunciation, and sat down with a distinct lack of grace.

"But I would, y'know?" Olivier looked up at him. He really was a sorry sight, tie untied, shirt unbuttoned and untucked on one side. His hair was rumpled and he had two smudges of lipstick, one russet and one deep magenta, on his cheek, farewell token from 'the girls' as they'd left the bar. "I'd protect you if… if you couldn't protect yourself."

There was probably some highly meaningful response to that, but René was damned if he could think of it. He suspected gratitude was in order rather than his initial feeling of 'dear God you are insane', but then again, Olivier probably wouldn't believe it even if he succeeded in conveying such an emotion, so he was better off not trying. "Me too," he said after a moment of concentrated thought.

"That's nice," Olivier smiled at him vacantly, then looked down toward where their feet were, misaligned but mostly side-by-side. "Your shoe's untied…better take it off."

For some reason, that made perfect sense, perhaps because it seemed like far too complicated a process to lean down and tie it back up. René nodded obediently and kicked off both shoes as a gesture towards symmetry, then boggled at his socks, which for some reason looked quite ludicrous.

"Hmmpf," Olivier snorted and slid off the front of the couch, winding up next to his feet. He began tugging at the nearest one, pulling the sock half way off and then snickering at it, "Clown feet."

"Yes, thank you," René said, feeling distinctly rabbit-hole-ish. "That's very helpful of you, because obviously I wasn't in any danger of falling over my own feet before you turned me into a jester..."

"Wouldn't. You're sitting down."

"I meant when I got up," René said hopelessly, knowing Olivier wasn't paying the slightest bit of attention to him.

Olivier tugged the sock rest of the way off then did the same to the other, depositing them inside René's shoes with the extreme care of the very drunk. "You have nice feet."

He pulled the closest one up into his lap, inspecting it intently. He ran his hands over it, flexing it and inspecting each toe. "They're not as nice as your hands… but nice…"

"Are you flirting with my feet?" René enquired disbelievingly. He wasn't sure whether he was more taken aback by the distinctly bizarre concept or the fact he was actually quite taken with the idea.

Olivier frowned thoughtfully. "Yes? No." He looked up at René, and smiled suddenly, open and drunken and sweet and lopsided and utterly, ridiculously endearing. "I'm fondling your feet," he announced with an air of triumph, presumably at having thought of the right word.

"Of course you are," René murmured. "Stupid of me."

"Not stupid," Olivier suddenly growled at him. "You're….you're…you know, not… stupid."

"And the man fondling my feet is a judge of intelligence?"

"Yes," Olivier gave a decided nod. "And you have to do what the judge says."

"Yes, I know –" René stopped abruptly, and they looked at each other in sudden sobriety, thinking of tomorrow and the hearing and the man who was waiting in the cells after being processed by Dufay.

"I can't think about it," Olivier said desperately.

"Okay." René slid off the couch and semi-landed in a rather ungainly kneeling position beside him.

"I just made sure a man is going to be locked up forever, and I know what he did but I can't be the person who wants people to be –"

"You're not," René said urgently. "You're not. You couldn't be, even if you tried, you – Olivier –"

He reached out with strangely steady hands and cupped Olivier's face. "Olivier," he said like an incantation of nuit blanche prayer, and kissed him.

The tiny whimper of sound that escaped Oliver at that instant was as surprising as it was welcome. The tentative touch of tongue, the rasp of hands on cloth as they tried and succeeded in finding just the perfect spot to rest before pulling him closer.

He was drunk enough to know he wanted more than this, and sober enough to understand there wouldn't be, even if they neither of them had any inhibitions right then.

The spirit was more than willing, in both cases – but the flesh –

"I'm too plastered to twitch," Olivier said into his mouth, and that was the final piece of lunacy that sent René over the edge into great whooping gasps of laughter that were partly relief and partly joy at the knowledge that there would have been a response, and part simple drunken hysteria.

They tilted sideways against the sofa, the final release of that tension leaving them like damp rags, too tired to move, too drunk to want to.

They had stopped kissing, but were still tangled up in each other, bare feet and shoes, long fingers and still-calloused ones, René's still-short hair a jagged burr of light-gilded spikes that kept reflecting its strands into his eyes.

"I don't want to move," Olivier said at last. He sounded most of the way asleep, but still more sober than he had been when he had been laughing at René's socks.

René smiled, free from anything now but a kind of spent contentment, all nerves and hysteria finally dispersed. "Okay," he said agreeably, and Olivier laughed somewhere around his ear, warm and amused and half-way into drowsing.

The sound carried him into a deep and almost unnoticed sleep, where he dreamed of nothing but things as they were.



Olivier awoke with a choked snort that he regretted almost instantly. His head was pounding as though John Bonham was doing practice sets inside his head. His back was pressed up against the sofa, which, although it was quite comfortable in the normal course of things, now seemed determined to rub the skin off his right elbow. There was also something heavy on his chest. It was also warm and slightly damp, extending all down his non-sofa scratched side.


René was sprawled over him, his blond head with its still short fuzz of hair resting on his chest. Somehow Olivier found the fact that his normally immaculate friend was leaving a drool spot on his shirt to be oddly endearing.

God. How ridiculous can I get?

"Oh God," René said fervently, not even attempting to move. If not for the fact he was talking, Olivier would have thought him still asleep, his breathing not yet caught up with his mind's awakening. "Oh God, this is why no-one should get drunk. Sofas. Floors. Too old..." There was a long, suspicious pause, and then he said in complete horror – "and definitely too old to have drooled like Julie."

"Julie?" Olivier was definitely not on the same wavelength any more. Perhaps they needed more to drink.

"My former Prefect's daughter." René explained, shifting just enough to get his face out of the drool spot. "She's about eighteen months old – well, now she is, not when I had the rather dubious pleasure of her company – and she seems, oddly enough, to like me."

"Ah… a child of impeccable taste then," Olivier concluded, "in spite of the drool."

"Hm," René said doubtfully. "Either that or she's started on the business of suit-wrecking early – I suppose that shows excellent taste as well."

Olivier considered that for a few moments, in silence. Or really, didn't consider it at all since his hung-over brain seemed only able to handle a limited number of concepts at the moments, the uppermost being busy cataloguing its own pain, and how nice it felt to have René lying against him, and how he could alleviate the former without disturbing the latter.

It wasn't, he decided, going to be possible.

"I need painkillers," he said at last, regretfully.

"You know where they are," René agreed, not moving.


There was silence.

"You're going to have to shift if I go get them," Olivier said softly.

"Yes," René said unenthusiastically. He sighed, the sound of the terribly put-upon, and rolled sideways with a small groan, ending up with his head uncomfortably jammed against the sofa and the floor. "Oh lovely. Motor reflexes have deserted me..."

Olivier barked out a laugh, then groaned. "Laughter bad. Let me just…." He shifted the other direction, bumped into the coffee table and was rewarded with a small avalanche of magazines tumbling down onto his already aching head. "How the fuck did we get down here in the first place, because really...there's not very much room."

René gave him a look that seemed mostly comprised of lifted eyebrows, and told Olivier just how stupid he had sounded. "Well..." he said slowly, and then – "actually, if you can't remember, I'm not enlightening you."

"I remember kissing you, idiot," Olivier rolled his eyes in a way that would make Kitty proud, "I just meant here… specifically and…" He shifted again, shoving the coffee table further away, "I think I have one of your shoes under my ass. Ow."

"Well, you were the one who insisted I take them off," René pointed out. "Also, as you so eloquently pointed out, the flesh was too plastered to even twitch. Apparently that involved any thought of finding a more comfortable place, as well." What Olivier could see of his rather squashed face was smiling with a definite hint of evil.

"God… I did say that, didn't I?" Olivier groaned. "I definitely need to have a talk with my dick about its lack of timing."

His first chance to even get close to René and he was too drunk to do anything about it. His life now truthfully sucked…except without even the sucking part and…

He really needed to get his brain out of his pants and moving towards the bathroom for pain killers and water.

"Yes you do," René agreed, still not moving himself, and oh God, he had said that last part aloud. He waited for a stinging reprisal, but none came. Either hangovers made René weirdly compliant, or things actually had changed – and distinctly for the better.

He got out before he could wreck it with another ill-timed comment.

The trip upstairs to the bathroom proved to be…interesting. His sense of balance was a bit off due to having his eyes half closed against the too bright morning sun and he was sure his left hip was now sporting several bruises from having been bumped rather forcefully against the banister on his way up. He didn't even bother turning on the light once he arrived, just left the bathroom door open while he downed four capsules and drank two glasses of water. Then he had to brush his teeth because alcohol and morning breath always seemed to combine into something that made it feel like he'd been dredging the Seine…with his mouth.

After his mouth was clean, he felt the sudden overwhelming urge to make the rest him clean as well, so he stripped off his clothes and got into the shower.

Really, it was just as well that nothing more than a kiss had happened between them last night, since lowered inhibitions aside, he didn't want to live with knowing that he had started off something that was such a complete change for him while drunk. He wanted to be completely sober and aware of every moment. He wanted to show René just how much he loved him and that he was completely cognizant of what he was doing – and he had a feeling that René would believe and accept nothing less.

He didn't know what he had done in the bar that had made René accept that his overtures were sincere – and accept it to the degree where he was quite open about doing so in front of Kitty, but whatever it was, he was grateful to fate or chance or blind luck for allowing it. He had a fair idea that René had been far more sober than he had thought even when they arrived home – that drunk for René was an entirely different stage of intoxication to that of most people – and that he would now be remembering every single bloody nuance of what had taken place between them, and probably analysing it to death.

Olivier showered off what felt like his two top layers of skin before he was sure that he no longer smelled like an alcoholic's armpit, and finally emerged into a steam-filled bathroom to scowl at his blurred and misted reflection, while further along the corridor, the sound of René cursing at his lukewarm shower provided a welcome note of prosaic reality.

He shaved, using his electric razor because he wasn't confident of the steadiness of his hands, then dressed in jeans, a grey jumper and trainers. De Treville had given the team the morning off, knowing that their celebration would have been enthusiastic – so he wouldn't have to be in until one o'clock to process the paperwork and would have not only Isa, whose propensity for appalling hangovers was well-known and whose usefulness would be fairly minimal, but René to help him.

That thought made him smile. René would be working with him every day. It was absolutely brilliant.

He wandered down the hall to René's room, slipping quietly through the door.

More than half-expecting shouts about privacy and boundaries and his own lack of sense when it came to both, he was surprised when René accepted his presence with no more than a faint look of surprise, and carried on getting dry and changed without comment.

It was, Olivier had to admit, rather arousing in a sort of oddly reversed striptease kind of way. René was all sharp lines and wiry sinew, Olivier had known that, but seeing it all there before him, moving with that simple grace was different. It made Olivier want to move closer and help, burnishing each bit of skin with a kiss before it was sealed into slacks and shirt.

"What?" René asked, sounding vaguely uneasy, and Olivier caught back a laugh, realising that he had been doing exactly what he had been trying to inspire in René with all his days of walking around half-dressed.

"Nothing," he said, shaking his head. "Unless you need advance warning before I look."

"Er, no," René said, still sounding bemused. "No, that's fine, you – carry on. If you start cataloguing, though, I will have to shoot you, so keep the viewing quiet in the name of self-preservation, would you?"

Despite the sharpness of the words, his tone was light, faintly teasing – and Olivier, who had been cataloguing René's changes in tone long before he even thought to reassess how he looked at him, recognised that for so much to show in his voice, he was feeling something infinitely deeper than mild amusement.

"And if I wanted to do more than watch?" He had to push it, always. He wanted René to be sure this was what he wanted. No unrequited love from afar, he wanted to touch and be touched. And, just for a complete change, he wanted to know that his partner wanted the same out of love and not some twisted concept of pay for play.

René laughed. "I confess I was assuming that," he admitted. "What's holding you back now? You haven't exactly been shy in the past..."

"No," Olivier said slowly. "But before, I was..." He searched for words, and came up blank. "I'm not sure."

"Trying to get me to look at you?" René suggested. "I always have, that didn't take any effort. I was waiting for you to catch up with yourself."

It was a revelation, hearing it so simply put.

I was waiting for you.

He had been trying to seduce a man who didn't need seduction, and who had been perfectly willing to wait, calm and set aside, until Olivier was ready to understand just what he was offering, and realise that he wanted to take it in return.

Olivier was across the room with the next heartbeat, his arms wrapping around René before he even knew it was what he intended. "I love you."

The words were the release of pain, the hope of a future and a promise.

"Well, and good God," René said slowly. "I believe you do..."

"Never doubt it," Olivier told him, burying his face in René's neck and kissing that spot just below his ear that had held him fascinated for the last few minutes. It was soft and tasted vaguely of salt and soap, a combination that, if the reaction he was experiencing was any clue, he found remarkably arousing.

"No, I don't revert, as a rule," René said absently, and it was as if his skin was shivering under Olivier's touch, the centre of his body quite steady beneath. "Which would, of course, go both ways."

It took Olivier a moment to realise what was being said, and then he grinned, knowing René would be able to feel it, and not sure which of them he was most amused at, himself for his over romanticism, or René for his dry, commonplace expression of that least levelled-out emotion.

"Your declarations," he said, "are hopeless."

And René burst out laughing, wholly unoffended. "Why the fuck do you think I like poetry?" he demanded. "I get the words said for me, that's why!"

"Well, as long as you do this part for yourself…I won't mind." Olivier covered René's lips with his own.

As kisses went, this one was fairly tame, warm and open, but conveying, he hoped, his willingness to take this on to the next step.

But René had meant it about seduction. He did not need to be courted in any way, not with words or emotions or the body, and his response had nothing of tameness in it, only desire. He did not need to know whether Olivier was willing or not, a kind of implicit trust in his ability to stop if it was not what he wanted.

The astonishing thing was that it never occurred to him.

Oliver quickly managed to reverse almost half of René's tidiness, his shirt unbuttoned and off his shoulders while he rained kisses over the smooth skin of his chest and shoulders. This was what he'd been dreaming about for weeks. His hands trembled as they touched René, too many emotions churning inside him.

Of course, the hangover probably wasn't helping either, but that he could ignore.

It wasn't much satisfaction to him that René was in the same fairly haphazard state, both of them driven by the physical and any progress hampered by scattered thoughts that leapt ahead of themselves and never quite reached a conclusion. It was graceless and frustrating and Olivier had never been so aware of the limitations of clothing in his life.

"This isn't quite working is it?" Olivier said at last. "I'm sorry. I want to do this. I really want to do this…but…"

"There's too much that's not settled," René nodded.

"There's too much that isn't going to be –" Olivier started in despair, and René cut him off with the simple expedient of slamming a hand over his mouth.

"Stop talking. You'll depress me as well as yourself, and I'm feeling too damn good to put up with that. No, nothing's going to be perfect, we both know that. But I don't want you to come to this still tied, not in any way, even if it's just legally. And yes, I know my morality's fucked, you don't have to tell me. But it is my morality, and I can't rationalise it away."

"I don't expect you to," Olivier told him, and an odd part of him agreed. As long as he was still married to Claire, at least on paper, he wasn't free. He also wondered how much of Keller was still holding on to René. It was like they both had these huge beasts with sharp claws clinging to their backs. Until they were slain…nothing would be right.

René nodded. "All right," he said, and it was oddly more of a vow than anything else he had said since he came back from Rome. "Come on. Let's go and horrify the captain by turning up early for paperwork."

"Oh God," Olivier said dismally. "Do we have to?"

"Yes," René said a little grimly. "Because right now I'll take any reason tenuously offered to me that forces me to keep at a distance of more than ten inches away from you." His smile was more of an inverted grimace. "I foresee a great devotion to my new job coming in the next few days..."

Olivier's lips twitched, "Or we can really horrify the Captain by telling him he's our distraction from sex."

René just looked at him.

"Or not," Olivier added quickly.

"Right," René agreed. "Or not. Or very very not. Now please, get out of my room."

It would have sounded appallingly rude, if it weren't for the fact it was going to be the only solution for a while.

"Separate cars?" Olivier asked dolefully, unable to resist pushing his luck. "I mean, we could save fuel and –"


Laughing, Olivier went.


René had not expected his words about devotion to the job to be quite so prophetic. Strangely, although there was more tension in the house than there had ever been, it was not the kind that set him and Olivier at odds with each other – rather too much of the opposite, most of the time – and that translated into an ease at work that he suspected took Olivier aback as much as it did him, and was certainly bewildering and intriguing Isa almost past containment.

Paperwork became a way of life, lawyers became a fixed point of focused loathing, and Monsieur Georges made one concerted attempt to make himself into one of his art pieces by trying to swallow his tongue that left the psychologists revising their checkboxes for suicide risks at an impressive rate.

René, who rather wished Georges had succeeded, kept his opinions to himself and dealt as an intermediary between the mental health experts, the lawyers, and Isa, who thought he knew better than all of them and was becoming increasingly less backward about sharing his opinions with the world. He would, René suspected, even have informed du Plessis of where he felt everyone was going wrong, if Olivier hadn't corralled him as he went to leave the building and demanded to know what exactly he was playing at.

And then, with abruptness rather than speed, the court date was set, and the papers were free to report whatever they could get their hands on. René, perfectly sure that Georges was in no way going to restrict himself to a simple guilty plea, spent the night after he heard the date on Kitty's sofa-bed, miserably aware of just why he couldn't even trust himself to be at home, and his body choosing to forcibly remind him of how it couldn't be trusted every ten minutes.

Sleep-deprived, frustrated, and at his intolerant worst, he was in no mood to receive de Treville's latest good idea with any sort of grace at all.

"No. I am not being your press spokesman. No."

"You say that as if I'm giving you a choice, d'Herblay," the Captain raised one eyebrow. "You have the grace and the wit to say only what is acceptable and the control to not lose your temper, even when dealing with du Plessis. I can say neither of those things about du Vallon or de la Fère, and I certainly can't say them of Dufay. You will direct this conference, no discussion."

"God," René said miserably. "In that case, I'm opting for no conference."

"And I'm opting for not an option," de Treville said with a faint smile. "Try again."

"All right." René ran his hands over his head, and thought. "All right, seriously. No conference. No paid-for room, no opportunity for all the questions. They get their chance on the courtroom steps, and if they'd rather interview lawyers, then that's their chance gone. You call the time and place, and make them fit it – not the other way around. Du Plessis is riding high on success, he won't be that interested – this time. Everyone else is scrambling to catch up with him, so they're more likely to take what they can get than wait for a chance remark to give them a headline. So – courtroom steps, let them broadcast it, everyone gets the same material to use."

"Acceptable," de Treville nodded his agreement. "This time. But I expect you and de la Fère to keep a muzzle on du Vallon. I don't want his pet theories clouding anything."

"I can-- Yes, sir." René said and stalked out of the office back toward his desk. He took lots of satisfaction over the next ten minutes in slamming drawers and shredding documents. It was all wonderful stress relief.

"You're not going to go all….Watergate on us, are you?" Olivier looked at the pounds of confetti that René had already created.

"But that would be...wrong," René said in a reasonable, deadpan facsimile of Nixon's voice, and Isa cracked up.

"Yeah, but at least it would be entertaining," he pointed out through his laughter. "I think Olivier meant –"

"Don't destroy important documents, yes, Isa, I got it," René said a bit tiredly. His head was starting to pound, miserable little loci of agony centring on his temples. "Guess who gets the press tomorrow?"

"Fuck." Olivier didn't even need to guess, apparently. "What is de Treville thinking of? Is he insane? Do you want me to go tell him I'll take it?"

Olivier grimaced, suddenly realizing what he'd just volunteered for.

"Number one, no. Number two, I don't think de Treville is willing to negotiate. Number three… just no again." René grimaced.

"No," Olivier agreed, with almost insulting quickness. "Oh well. At least we got an inquisitorial trial instead of a jury. Can you imagine what this would be like with a jury?"

"Yes, I was in fact trying not to, but thanks," René said dryly, turning the shredder on again and drowning out anything else Olivier had to say. It was only when the tapping on his shoulder showed no signs of lessening that he switched the machine off and turned round with a sigh.


"Does that mean we have to go to all of it?" Isa asked pathetically.

"Yes," René said with vicious satisfaction at someone else's suffering, and took the shredder basket to empty it.


The trial itself proved to be relatively painless. The facts were laid out, and both Olivier and Isa were called to the stand to repeat all the particulars that were already in the mounds of paperwork the case had required. The lawyer for the prosecution made her points, most of which had already been presented to the original court during the preliminaries which had decided the kind of trial this was going to be. The defence lawyer appointed by the court did her best, but she had a more difficult role, as her client seemed to care neither about being caught nor imprisoned, only that he was no longer free to continue with his grisly self-appointed task. He spent his time on the stand railing at the police for destroying his art and giving, in minute detail, all his trials in creating it.

Isa spent all his time drawing caricatures of him. At one point, the sketch of him in profile, mouth open mid-rant, looked alarmingly as though he were leaning forward to devour himself entire, since the slightly prominent teeth, exaggerated and – René squinted – apparently multiplied by Isa's pen, were closing over a smaller figure in the dock.

He leant over, uncapped his own pen, and scribbled at the side of the drawing- new psychological analysis or just a happy coincidence? - and watched Isa's double take at his own artistic efforts with some satisfaction.

As ever though, the wheels of justice turned at their own slow pace, and in spite of Monsieur Georges' proud assertion that he had, in fact, committed every one of the murders, the Judge was determined to hear all the evidence. At the end of the first day, this meant that would now have to run the gauntlet that was the press and the ever-hopeful paparazzi.

"Maybe we can just sleep here." Olivier suggested. "They must have someplace for sequestered jurors, right?"

"I think they just put them in the cells," Isa said, stretching out his cramped legs, which easily extended beyond the chair in front of him, with a faint groan. Something cracked, deep and nasty-sounding, in his back, and he sighed in pleasure. "Ooof. Better. Swear to God I was going to kick Dufay's shins off if that hadn't ended..."

"I think he sort of noticed," Olivier said with unusual restraint, refraining from adding that given how many times Isa had kicked Dufay in the shins, and the number of resulting over-the-shoulder glares, the man might have been grateful if said parts of his anatomy had, indeed, been kicked off.

"I think the judge sort of noticed, too," René said with a gloomy kind of pleasure at the memory. The poor man had lost his train of thought three times in a sentence at one point, thanks to being directly in the line of sight that led to Isa's drawings and his happily kicking feet. "Okay." He got to his feet. "You don't have to come with me, you can just head out the back and no-comment them, you know..."

"You don't think we're letting you go out through all that alone, do you?" Olivier narrowed his eyes at René.

"Not happening, super-spook," Isa chuckled. "We're like all for one and one for all."

Oliver and René just stared at him.


"Yeah, that might have sounded a lot better in my head," Isa admitted.

"We can only hope..."

"Yeah, but you know what I mean, it's like if one person does something then we all do something, only not specific somethings because quite honestly no, and –"

"Jesus God, stop explaining, it's painful," said Olivier hurriedly, thankfully putting the sentence out of its screaming agony, and pulled Isa to his feet. "Come on, exposition master, move your feet productively and get your legs in gear, would you?"

They timed their exit perfectly to coincide with that of the defence attorney, knowing his attempts to explain his client would most probably distract most of the crowd. They formed a phalanx of three with Isa taking point and began to bull their way down the crowded steps of the courthouse.

Some of the questions, the standard, polite ones, René answered with equal politeness and a brevity that ensured a news soundbite. Others he simply ignored, not even dignifying them with the response of 'no comment' or 'that's all'. Du Plessis, at the bottom of the steps, he looked at with flat animosity, until the older man smiled, and inclined his head.

"I prefer to wait until the judgement's handed out," he said clearly, his voice intended to carry. "No hard feelings, I trust?"

"Thousands," René said cheerfully, smiled nastily as du Plessis's pet photographer snapped away, and turned onto the street.

Unfortunately, du Plessis didn't seem able to let things go, "I was just doing my job, you know that. Just as you were doing yours."

René snorted, "My job was going perfectly, thank you very much. Or was…"

"Just back off." Olivier growled at du Plessis, but the man was either dense as layered brick or being purposely blind to the danger that René's friends might embody.

René ducked his head, shaking it in silent warning, and Olivier remembered just in time that he tended to come off the worse in all encounters with the journalist, and silence was so far proving to be his best and only form of defence.

"The public have a right to know," du Plessis continued, in the same gentle voice, and René's head came up, his mouth white-rimmed with controlled temper.

"No," he said curtly. "No, they don't, and you had no right either. If I'd had any sense, I'd have ordered you killed and kept doing my job. No-one's gained anything except a vaguely interesting story that they've now practically forgotten, and the losses have been – incalculable. There's a man in there who's going to jail for the rest of his life – or if he's really lucky, to the nearest mental hospital – and you know what took him to that point? His ego and his conviction that his art was more important than people's lives. Tell me, Armand, what's the difference between you and him? Because from where I'm standing – there's not even an invisible line in the sand."

Du Plessis waved that argument away, "No one died. And maybe the Interior will look a bit closer at their less than clean methods of operation. It shouldn't take two wrongs to make a right…and from where I was standing Keller was more like a hundred wrongs."

"Keller was mostly reputation, even if he was a creepy fuck," René said wearily. "Your threat, on the other hand, could have meant over twenty lives. And unless you've turned Puritan moralist, innocent lives. A hundred wrongs? Glass houses, excuses, empty words, all of it and you know it. Your ego, that's what it was really about. Your damned ego. And I gave in." Olivier was staring at him, and he sighed. "I cut a deal. My name on the front page or the prostitute rings exposed. And Luzhin would have had them all killed and then vanished if I'd chosen that." He turned back to du Plessis and said coldly, "So don't tell me about a hundred wrongs, you cheap bastard, you'd commit that hundred and a hundred times that hundred if you thought there was a story in it."

Du Plessis just sneered at him, unmoved. "Your superior attitude is very amusing, d'Herblay. You can revile me all you wish, but you also know that the Interior will use the Press to its own advantage just as easily. How many times have they planted stories? How often are we directed to some place on information that only they have? It's all pot and kettle as far as I can see."

"But you're forgetting," Olivier said, quiet and rough and very dangerous, and René spared a brief prayer of gratitude to the fact that du Plessis had no idea just how closely he was courting his own destruction at that moment, "the press isn't the law. It's not the law and it's not God, no matter what it likes to think. You can be lied to and misled and fed information on a drip, and it's still not wrong. We can say whatever we fucking well like to you, and it's not a crime. You just want it to be."

"And you," Du Plessis answered him back, "you think that the law is God, and that the law can do anything it wishes just because it is the law. But tell me, de la Fère, who made it the law? You? That judge in there? De Treville? No, the people did and they have the right to know how the power that they have granted is being used…or misused."

"The people didn't make the law," Isa said, sounding dreamy and abstracted and, to René's attuned ear, completely, thoughtfully evil. It was what he had long since termed Isa's 'Clovis mood', when he would be planning something entirely diabolical and sounding as though the proverbial butter would not only refuse to melt in his mouth, but possibly harden a little. "I mean, they were obviously people, they weren't aliens, but I personally don't count Napoleon and the EU together as being people. God, what a horrible thought."

"What is?" du Plessis asked, looking as though the words had been dragged out of him despite himself.

"Napoleon at the EU is," Isa said in tones of why-does-everyone-miss-the-obvious?, and René brought his hand up quickly to shade his face, rubbing at his eyebrow with his index finger and hoping the shadow of his curved palm would hide his threatening smile. Olivier, beside him, was shaking with unconcealed laughter.

"You—You're really—" du Plessis could not find the words. Finally he just threw his hands in the air and stalked away to torment someone else.

"Good one, Isa," Olivier managed to choke out past his laughter.

"What?" Isa smiled, beatific and serene and utterly, irredeemably evil, and René thought that there were few things in the world worth more to him at that moment in time. "Oh come on! It's a terrible thought!"

"Terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad thought," René agreed, and gave up trying not to laugh. "Oh God. Come on, Alexander, let's get out of here..."


The trial ended in the only way it could. Monsieur Georges was convicted, but sent to a mental institution rather than a jail. It didn't surprise anyone, really, since the man was obviously not in his right mind, nor had he been for some time. Still, it seemed a bit lenient to Olivier, considering where his victims now resided, although fortunately not joined by young Jeremy of the much-photographed shoulder.

It also seemed a bit of a letdown to have it all finished, the adrenaline high of important work now banked for the more mundane. It couldn't last too long though, Olivier figured. De Treville had René and Isa and him all working together, which had to mean there were more difficult cases coming their way. There was no chance that he'd waste René's skills on minor insurance fraud and stolen cars, surely.

René, though, seemed perfectly content with his current lot in life, despite Isa developing new ways of torturing him that left even Kitty impressed, culminating in an afternoon where Isa managed to get the shared printer to run backwards and produce gibberish that the Enigma machine would have been proud of; called René Ed Exley in the foolish assumption that he wouldn't know what he was talking about; and ended up locked in the janitor's cupboard with what he was insisting was a broken jaw, and Kitty, on the other side of the locked door, was insisting couldn't be, since he was still able to talk.

Olivier was still receiving calls from Claire, each one more baffling than the next, as she changed tracks faster than an express train. One moment she'd be sweet and cajoling, the next harsh and demanding, and all through it poured venom – at him, at René, at his friends and colleagues – and accusation. Accusations of infidelity, of abuse, even at one point of rape, which somehow he found hardest to take. He tried to keep it private, to step out of the office when it was possible, but she seemed to have an uncanny knack for knowing just when he couldn't leave, or when something would hit him hardest.

Desperation, Kitty called it. She knew her time was short and that when the decree was final she would get only a set amount of funds and no more. Claire's spur of the moment shopping and flights to Paris and Rome would definitely have to be curtailed.

René, colder and kinder at the same time – an unnerving combination until Olivier made himself remember that René had given her the respect due to a partner for far longer than he himself had even known Isa – was the one who pointed out that the obsessive relationship had been a long way from one-sided. Claire's motives for staying in the marriage as long as she had might be, as Isa claimed, a psychologist's wet dream, but they were also as genuine as Olivier's, if more twisted.

"Claire uses sex to control people," René said one evening, calm and unruffled in the late summer dusk as he said what Olivier least wanted to hear, even by then. "How very terrible for her to know that in the one relationship she should have controlled absolutely, she was controlled by the one thing she should have been able to use at will. It must be a bleak future she's looking at, knowing that she'll never learn now how to win."

But as much as he didn't want to hear it, Olivier had to admit to its truth. Sex had been the one place where he had felt secure with Claire. It was the one thing he consistently got right. He wasn't sure if he should be proud of that, or saddened.

He was grateful for those conversations, softened by late evening warmth and the velvety distance of a few feet and dark that fell like soot – not only because he was able to hear unpalatable truths in relative privacy, but because he was given, through René's odd moments of insight into others, an understanding of René himself that he would never otherwise have reached.

He knew that René had long since learned 'how to win', if only over himself, knew now that Keller was not the ghost that needed exorcising, but rather René's sense of failure over all that Rome had come to symbolise to him. He knew just what the asymmetrical sweater meant, and why René had so bitterly compared him to Richard Bordeaux, during his unwanted confession of love.

It had taken him over a year to find out even half of the things he had so arrogantly decided he had to know, back before Rennes, before the fight with Claire, before he had read a poem by Brecht and his world had turned more than once in his day. Over a year, and it felt as though time had not passed at all, as though all the knowledge he had was a drop in some infinite ocean of discovery.

René was teaching him how to win, as well; win by waiting, and listening, and watching – all the thousand ways of being a lover that had nothing and everything to do with matters of the flesh. Nothing, because there was nothing of touch in it, and everything because without it all that followed, all that he was beginning to see as not some pitch-perfect acme of desire, but a waiting inevitability, would be rendered meaningless.

I want to go with the one I love.

He was finally learning to relinquish his compulsion to hold on, to possess, and to feel himself the victor, to that implacable yearning.

It was a comfort and a revelation, to know that he could want someone, without wanting to own them. To share in a balance that had everything to do with honest affection and little to do with control. He was finally beginning to know himself, and he found to his surprise that he was someone who he almost liked.

His moods were less radical than they had been for years, without needing to immerse himself in work to keep some kind of balance, long weeks passing without wild heights or pits of despair, and getting more and more able to drag himself away from the attraction of both. He did still brood when something bothered him, but it was less often the evil kind of brood that shut everyone out. He was still a grumpy old bastard, but he found that he could live with that if René could.

René, apparently, expected nothing else from him, because either he could live with it without difficulty, or he still hadn't noticed – and since the latter was exceedingly improbable even for René's self-admitted bias, Olivier was forced to conclude that whatever René had found to love in him as opposed to merely tolerate, it was inclusive of the grumpy old bastard element.

He suggested that once, and got the mild reply of – "Well, I wouldn't say old, exactly," which left Olivier caught between insult and laughter and not really sure which way he was about to fall.

It amazed Olivier at times, how well they had settled in together. He was certain at times that his sloppy habits had to make René insane, but as long as he made an attempt at tidiness, the other man never complained.

They were still dancing around each other though, to a certain extent. In spite of daily (and probably annoying) calls to his lawyer, Olivier still did not have his decree absolute. What else Claire had found to contest, he had no clue, having turned his back on the whole situation. He had hired a good lawyer and he was going to trust him to do his job.

But it was getting harder, for both of them. René was spending more time on Kitty's sofa-bed than was good for either her temper or his back, and Olivier's one rather heavy-handed attempt at joking about his irresistibility and what René was afraid of had fallen into the conversation with all the subtlety of a medieval anvil.

"Quite," René had said, tight-lipped and rarely furious, and disappeared into Missing Persons for the rest of the day. Olivier had spent the time taking his bad temper out on Isa, who had made several unhelpful comments about what people should do with their hands in order to de-stress if they were so determined (not naming any names here, but if some people were so determined) not to get any pleasure in life any other way – and as a result, found himself locked in the janitor's cupboard again, with Olivier giving him explicit instructions from outside it about just what effect he could put his advice regarding hands towards.

So… no sex, no divorce, foul calls from Claire, but the possibility of future challenging cases that involved actual detective work… All in all, his life was acceptable.

"De la Fère… you've got a call on line three," Dufay called his attention back to the present.

It was, for once, his lawyer actually calling him, and of course, in beautiful irony, demanding to know why his mobile was off.

"Because I'm at my desk?" Olivier said, making the universal gesture at the side of his head for 'my caller has lost his mind' to an interested Isa.

"Well then I don't suppose you would be interested in why I'm calling then, would you?" his lawyers voice was dry and droll and, like most lawyers, Olivier found him to be a bit annoying.

"Depends on what it is, doesn't it? If you're calling to tell me she wants something else then no…"

"I think she wants to change her name," his lawyer said, sounding far too amused for his continuing health, if Olivier ever got his hands on him, "but since that's got nothing to do with me or you, I wouldn't worry. Oh – and I'll send the bill with your copy – just in case you were wondering how to pay."

"For her changing her name?" Olivier asked a bit blankly.

"Well, in a manner of speaking, I suppose so," his lawyer agreed. "Your divorce, Olivier," he added a bit more gently, as if worried about his reaction. "It's through."

"Oh," said Olivier, and then, recognising that a bit more was probably expected of him, "Thanks."

He was certain that the lawyer had said more to him after that but his brain was in such a whirl that he was never certain what it had been. He just grunted in what seemed to be appropriate places and then hung up the phone.

His divorce was final.


Claire had no more hold on him apart from the money she would receive once a month. He was free. The idea should make him happy, but instead he only felt sadness and a kind of guilty emptiness that came with a feeling of failure.

Not sadness that Claire was no longer part of his life, he was more than reconciled to that and ready to move on. Rather it was sadness that he had failed at something that should have been so fundamental. It made him wonder if he should try again because, if he were completely honest with himself, if he failed again, he didn't know how he'd survive it.

And he suddenly realised why René had made him wait. Made them both wait, forced himself to share confidences that he doubted anyone had an inkling of other than Richard Bordeaux – and that man's sorrow, for Olivier's part, was not a grief he had any intention of ever reawakening by being so crass as to ask him what he knew of René, and so make him recall his dead wife – forced himself to leave those soft, evening places to lie between them gently and let time pass. René had known Olivier would feel like this, known it precisely, and had meant him to appreciate what it meant to be free to the full, no cushion to fall back on, no security of another relationship to make him think all would be well –

and all manner of things shall be well

– nothing but his own hard-gained self-knowledge to sustain him now, to stop him from the old, worn spiral of despair and futility.

He was a free man.

And he was also free to walk away, even if it broke his heart and René's, he could simply walk away.

Even by his next breath, he knew he truly did not want to, and that he was, in fact, prepared to risk feeling like this the full seventy times seven, if it mean he got the time with René to match the days and weeks and months and years that he had spent with Claire, and call the cost worth it.

Never doubt it, he had said to René, and meant it.

He meant it still.

"Olivier?" Isa's voice brought him back to the present this time. "Is something wrong?"

"What? Oh. No, nothing's wrong." He scribbled something on his note pad and then opened another file folder. Once Isa went back to his own work, Olivier stood up, walked over to René's desk and slipped the note under his elbow.

'Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an hermitage;
If I have freedom in my love
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone, that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty.

The lawyer called. My divorce is final. I'm free.

He went back to his own workstation, and waited, watching as René's quick eyes flickered over the note, and then back at Olivier. Calm, and unquestioning, and waiting for whatever might come next, not demanding the returns of anything promised, not expecting any repeated declarations. He did not look like a man waiting for delight or for the shadow of the axe – though both were almost tangible presences above him – he only looked like himself.

Utterly, entirely himself, and Olivier knew that he might never see René stripped this bare again, not from choice, not holding himself like this, raw and flayed open and strangely unafraid as he waited for the rest of it.

"Never doubt it," Olivier said quietly, his voice pitched to carry across the space between their desks, and René let out a breath that was all joy and relief, his face suddenly illuminated by a wealth of emotions that Olivier had always known him to possess and never before seen, and the shadow of the axe was gone from above him.


Desire is the starting point of all achievement, not a hope, not a wish, but a keen pulsating desire which transcends everything.
- Napoleon Hill


Years later, René was to admit he couldn't remember much of what was supposed to be the pivotal moment of his life – mostly because he thought, privately, that the moment happened at the Sûreté, when he saw Olivier's expression and knew before he spoke that he had not been holding onto belief for nothing. He was fairly uncertain of what had happened, other than that they kept laughing, of all the damn things, and that Olivier had to keep stopping to tell him how it was strange to be so very certain, which was not actually all that reassuring. Something that he always remembered, though, and never shared the clarity of it with anyone, not even Olivier, was Olivier slowly unbuttoning his shirt, learning his body as though he had never touched it before, and realising that he had never allowed himself to imagine this moment.

Not that imagining could ever have prepared him for this. For those large, strong hands with their neatly manicured nails, drifting feather light up over his shoulders, dipping into the depression of his clavicles and then caressing his neck. They were gentle still when they drew him forward for a kiss. That was when he noticed they were trembling, not a lot, but the feeling was quite definite against his skin.

He would remember the silences, nothing left in them to ache, because there was nothing more that could not be said. Infinity stretched out before his mind like Blake's palm of the hand, something to hold loosely and know its presence and never have to fear or try desperately to grasp any more. He thought that perhaps heat and want were synonyms for love, even though that was the avatar of impossible, skewed, wrong, even though he had thought they were the direct opposite.

There was no hesitancy this time, no desperation, no sense that nothing was enough and everything was too much, only a kind of under-running laughter and a strange freedom to finally, finally, do what he pleased with his own hands, to learn the slant of Olivier's mouth and stop holding back all the things he had wanted to show and stop trying to say.

"I'm doing this wrong," Olivier said suddenly, but when René looked at him there was a smile on his face. "You're still thinking too much."

René shrugged. The idea of mindlessness had never been one that appealed to him – if he was to have something and enjoy it, he wanted to do so completely, not as some unthinking being overwhelmed by mere instinct. "I'm not going to stop, either," he said. "So no, you're doing it right."

Olivier chuckled, the vibrations of it shared through their skin, "Glad to hear it. You'll let me know if that changes?"

"Have you ever known me to be shy?" René raised an eyebrow.

"No," Olivier admitted. "Reserved, but –"

"Yes, well I don't do reservation in bed," René said in exasperation, realizing that if anyone was in danger of talking themselves or thinking themselves out of anything, it certainly wasn't him.

Olivier frowned, shook his head, then leaned down to place biting kisses on René's chest, his rough beard scratching over the skin in a way that was just this side of uncomfortable. He paused, as if deciding where to continue, then his tongue darted out to flick one of René's nipples. He seemed surprised and then pleased that it reacted the way he thought it should.

René suppressed a moment of incredulous amusement, wondering what Olivier had thought he was getting himself into, and quickly stifled it. He was more intrigued by the fact that where he used his hands to learn and discover, Olivier apparently used his mouth, and amusement was replaced by new desire as he thought of what else that would mean.

And Olivier was very busy at the moment, kissing here, tasting there, painting over his stomach with broad swathes of his tongue, then circling his navel and dipping inside. He grinned widely at every reaction he coaxed out of René, physical or vocal. It was as if he were playing some game, a game that he was enjoying immensely.

René did laugh, then, breathless with the burn of it all, with falling into this haze of lips and tongue and teeth that bit just hard enough to make him almost jump even though he knew before they touched his skin that they were there. He was dizzy with drinking it all in, aching with the feeling of being so exposed, hypersensitive to the point of crying out at every new touch.

It was only when Olivier finally reached his groin that the oral torments ceased. René glanced down to see Olivier reaching out with one hand, touching him again with those gentle feather light brushes of fingertips. Down, around, over, and then a pause as he touched the tip, gathering the moisture there on one broad finger and bringing it to his lips.

The look on Oliver's face was priceless, sort of half-way between shock and confusion, and his eyes instantly shot up towards René's. "Well… that's…."

"Different?" René smirked at him.

Olivier gave him a look that suggested he had been dropped on his head as a baby one too many times, complete with eye roll. René returned the look with interest, very far from laughter now and close to groaning with pure frustration, because Olivier was in exactly the wrong place for enough skin or enough contact or enough anything other than making René want to smack him over the head and tell him to do anything, as long as he got the hell on with whatever it was, and really, that wouldn't be at all helpful.

The determined look on Olivier's face, however, wasn't exactly what he was expecting – or, if he were honest, really wanted – from someone who was preparing to blow him. Sacrifice was the last thing he wanted Olivier to associate with sex and him. "Stop."

Now Olivier just looked startled, "What?"

"It's not an exam!" René said, exasperation winning out, and gave up trying to explain or even attempt to do what he thought a good responsible person would do and talk Olivier through whatever he was worrying about.

He got a grip on Olivier's thigh and hauled him up, half into his lap, the first friction of their cocks rubbing against each other pushing him almost to the point of no return, so that he had to freeze, focusing on breathing, focusing on making this at least half-way to good for them both and not simply do what he wanted and just take. He buried his face in Olivier's neck and just breathed, waiting as he had been waiting for so long for Olivier to catch up with him, with himself, with what they could have.

Olivier, doing nothing at all for René's self-control, caught up fast, caught up and passed him, not trying to hold back at all any more, now that he didn't have to think about what should come next. He licked and bit at René's earlobes, his neck, anywhere and everywhere he could reach, until René stopped thinking about control and just let it all overwhelm him, drive him, contact and friction and skin on skin doing its work for him. They grasped at each other, all desperate fingers and palms, like and yet unlike that first time in the same bedroom, all of it reduced to fumbling, incoherent movements, better and more intense, more honest than anything René had ever had or had ever imagined when he thought of this point.

"All this fucking time," Olivier gasped out, biting his collarbone, "what, just what, what in the fuck fuck fuck were you waiting for?"

"I didn't realize I was," René admitted, and grinned, unstoppable and fierce and amused. "I suppose I should make up for lost time, then."

"Bastard," Olivier muttered, and bit rather harder this time, any tentativity completely gone.

René just laughed, feeling reckless and somehow free as though he had come loose from a hold he never knew he was in.

And when they finally neared the pinnacle, René watched as Olivier came undone, head thrown back, eyes closed, face contorted into the rigor of pleasure, and let that sight be what took him over, gasping out curses and love against Olivier's shoulder.

They leant together then, panting heavily, both of them with what René knew were utterly ridiculous grins on their faces, caught in a strange and rarefied breathlessness where their ability to move or think or even remember how the world turned was fuelled only by adrenaline and endorphins – and, René was forced to admit to himself, by the strange exhilaration that could so easily be branded love, and fell so far short of a description of any of it that it was laughable. It was amazing and disorientating at once, and René needed his breath back so he could appreciate how ludicrous it all was to its fullest extent, and actually get himself together enough to laugh out loud at it, rather than simply letting the strange, shimmering amusement that seemed to be running under his skin take him over. As it was, he was too focused on getting any air at all to even think about doing more than draw it in as quickly as possible.

I am ridiculous, he thought, and was surprised when the idea hurt a little.

"All right," Olivier managed to say between breaths, an amused little vocalization that René used to ground himself with. He held onto the sound of it, almost trying to touch it physically, in order to stop himself from flying apart and shattering on black humour and a kind of shocked delight that was nothing at all like he had expected. "One more thing I can add to the list of things you're damn good at."

René gave him a slit-eyed look, trying to muster up enough energy to glare, trying not to show just how incredibly wiped out he was by something which had been, in the end, so very simple and so very brief and in no way measured up to the devastating effect it seemed to have had on him, and managed – "I do not do compliments."

"Right," Olivier said solemnly. His mouth twitched. "I remember. Like declarations of romance. Hence the –"

"Poetry, yes, now shut up," René said, still half-caught out of reality and trying to force himself back to his more normal behaviour and tone with mockery.

Olivier did… for all of ten seconds. Then he laughed and shifted his weight to the side. "Then I suppose a simple 'I love you' would be out of the question?"

"No, that's a statement, not a declaration or a compliment, so it's perfectly allowed," René said, and started laughing himself. Ridiculous, he thought again, but somehow the word had lost all sting. We are ridiculous. "But it is a cliché…"

"Oh, so you do clichés, then?" Olivier mocked. He seemed as pleasantly half-bemused as René was, his tone as at odds with his expression and body as René knew his own was. "And I never knew…"

"Thrive on them," René said cheerfully, his limbs thrumming with spent energy and pleasantly relaxed. He was starting to wonder if he would ever feel any different ever again, could scarcely remember what the tension of before had been like, as completely devoid of it now as he had been consumed by it before. "Can't imagine a world without them, actually. How dull it would be…"

"So 'I love you' is a cliché? I think I'm hurt…"

"It is," René said, and gathered enough energy to roll over and kiss him. He propped himself up on his elbows when Olivier was satisfactorily quiet, and smiled, utterly content with his lot in life and not a little smug with it. He couldn't have cared less. Ridiculous, he thought once more, and this time the word sang through him. "But it's also a fact. A statement. A positive absolute. So I can live with it…"

He could, and he knew he could, he could live with himself and he could live with whatever came next, and with whatever there might be waiting for them that they hadn't considered, however foolish or inane it seemed to other people. He could live with it, and keep on living, and there was no more despair or fear to be found in that once-threatening word.

Love was ridiculous, after all.


Whatever Olivier had pictured that waking up with René would be like – and he wasn't sure, even in the privacy of his own mind, what he had imagined – it was utterly and complete nothing at all like the reality. No tidy but relaxed body, neatly on its own half of the bed, this was full out and complete bed-and-person luxuriating. He'd never really been used as a sort of combination of teddy bear and body pillow before. Claire, when she actually slept the night in his bed, stole all the blankets and curled up as far away from him as she could comfortably manage. René was all sprawl, and Olivier had to beware of getting in the path of flung out arms and elbows and warm damp breath tickling his ear.

It was the most glorious awakening he'd had in years.

Perversely, he wanted to share it, even though that meant disrupting the status quo, and even though it was still very very dark outside and the clock read just after two.

"Are you awake?"

"That is the stupidest question ever, you do know that, don't you?" René said somewhere around his neck. "God. Fuck. What's the time?"

"Just after two?" Olivier said, with a faint cringe.

"Yes, of course it is, and I'm not going to ask why for fear of getting an answer," René said, rolling onto his back and making a truly horrible face that was visible even in the faint orange of the streetlight that was coming through the curtains.

Olivier had the horrible urge to laugh, although he wasn't completely certain why, "Sorry?"

But damn, his voice didn't sound at all sorry and he knew it. Worse, René would know it, and suddenly it all felt completely silly and vaguely embarrassing, because what would he say? "I woke you up because I never had someone sleep with me like that and I wanted you to share it"?

And worse still, what if René actually understood what he meant?

"Somehow I doubt that," René said dryly, but he sounded neither annoyed nor pitying, which meant that either he had worked it out and didn't care, or that he was blissfully unaware of Olivier's thought processes – which was unlikely, but an equally cheering thought. "So tell me, owl-man, why did you feel the need to share ungodly o'clock with me?"

Wonderful. How was he going to answer that question truthfully without sounding like he was twelve years old? "Just woke up, I guess."

Okay, not twelve, but not adult either. "Not used to having someone sleep with me."

That was a bit better, and had the benefit of being the truth.

"Yes," René said, which could have meant anything at all, and probably did. "Oh well. I suppose I should shower, anyway."

He apparently accepted that being woken up randomly was now to be part of his life.

"You're going to start the day?" Olivier asked a bit blankly. "You'll be shattered by the time we get into work!"

"No, I'm going to have a shower because it's something I think we'll both appreciate," René said, desert-dry. "But if you want to call this the start of your morning, then feel free…"

"Yeah… okay…" Olivier could understand the shower bit, since he thought he should probably have one himself. Male to male sex was somewhat messier than he was used to.

René switched on the bedside light, looking mildly demented as he squinted against it and tried not to laugh at the same time. His hair was sticking up in odd little tufts all over his head, like a hedgehog that had been doused with fabric softener and then put in the tumble dryer. Olivier found himself struggling against amusement as well.

"Right," René said eventually, shaking his head at something Olivier was still too brain-fuzzed to grasp, and got up, avoiding the shoes and clothing scattered across the floor as he made his way over to the bathroom.

Olivier struggled out of the tangle of bedding and looked around the room. This would drive René insane once he woke up enough to notice it. So, yawning, he stood and began to gather up the clothes, checking the pockets and then dropping them in the hamper, shoes in the closet.

That was when he paused. Should his shoes go here? Or back down the hall in the other bedroom? He had no idea if René would want him invading his space quite that much. Maybe he expected them to stick to their own rooms with just visits back and forth for sex.

Somehow, that didn't really fit with what he had assumed they both wanted, but then most of the things that he had noticed about how René needed to live in order to function didn't really fit with a normal relationship – and that was before Olivier took into account the fact that he had no bloody idea what the rules were when it was something that had started out as a house share and gone from there, instead of the more normal other way around.

It was a hideous, hideous thought, but he suspected they were going to have to talk.

In the meantime, he avoided the issue completely by putting the shoes outside the bedroom door as he went down the corridor to take his own shower.

When he returned fifteen minutes later, wrapped in his old worn robe, it was to find René, towel wrapped around his waist, standing in front of the mirror and staring at a dark purpling mark over his left collarbone. Olivier remembered causing it, the gentle jut of flesh there just too appealing to resist. He remembered biting it repeatedly, tasting and licking, while they ground themselves toward release.

René's expression was more distant than that of an immediate memory, however, a far-away and not altogether happy look shadowing his eyes, and Olivier scowled, wanting to somehow erase whatever it was that had taken René out of the immediate present and back into whatever lay in his past that was evoked by bruises.

"What're you thinking about?" he asked abruptly, but René was less absorbed in his mind that Olivier had thought, and he only blinked a little and smiled.

"A man who thought he was more beautiful the more he had of marks like these," he answered. "I'm beginning to see the attraction, though not the actual beauty."

"Ah, I see." Olivier ventured, but he really didn't. "Does that me you want me to avoid them in future?"

He stepped closer, placing a gentle kiss over the spot.

"No," René said with a slightly choked laugh, "but I think if I start to demand them, you should refuse. I don't actually want to always be following him, I'd rather learn to cast my own shadow, I think."

"Keller?" Olivier asked, confused.

"No, not Keller," René said, and the bitter look of amusement changed to something rather less warped. "Richard. As far from Keller as you can possibly get, if he does have an equally…tenacious effect on me." He shrugged a little. "I have ghosts too, Olivier, you know that."

And the living ones are sometimes the worst, Olivier silently agreed.

"You loved him?" he had to ask it, even if it no longer mattered, even if he didn't feel threatened by the idea…much.

He had the sudden longing, one that had been no stranger to him from the moment he'd met René, to know everything there was to know about him. From what kind of toothpaste he used to this…this… non-relationship that had happened years before they'd met.

"Yes, of course," René said wryly. "It's somewhat difficult not to – some part of me still does, I think always will, because not to would be to forget that moment of falling utterly and completely for someone and being aware of it. Since I have no intention of ever repeating the experience, it would be a little churlish of me to try and stop, don't you think?"

Olivier, who actually resented Richard rather a lot for having had the temerity to both meet René first and be married, and so set in place one hell of a lot of barriers that Anne's death had confirmed rather than originated, just scowled. On the other hand, he supposed it would have been a damn sight more unpleasant for René if he had experienced that moment twice, and found it an impossibility twice as well, so he supposed he would have to accept that this was one thing he would never be able to say he wished could have been his.

"I'll fill in the churlish bit for you, then," he said with some feeling.

"I wouldn't expect anything less," René agreed mildly, but he still looked amused rather than in any way unhappy about how life had worked itself out.

"Hmmpf," Olivier made a rude noise. "Nor would you get it."

He moved over to sit on the foot of the bed before he spoke again. "Were you planning on getting dressed? It's still not quite three o'clock."

"No," René said simply, and rubbed at the back of his damp head with one hand, yawning. "I really wasn't. I was planning on getting as much sleep as I possibly could, or at least doing nothing at all very somnolently – God, I was joking earlier, you're not really thinking about starting the day, are you?"

"No…" Olivier said slowly. "But…I think we need to talk about this."

The one thing he wasn't expecting was for René to suddenly break into laughter, stagger over to the bed, collapse on it, still laughing, and croak out rather breathlessly - "You should see your face! –" before dissolving in silent convulsions all over again, punctuated by faint whoops for air.

"Alright, alright." He poked at René, jabbing one finger into his ribs and tickling him briefly. "I'm trying here, okay? Don't want to mess anything up because… I'm not planning on doing this again, ever. So just humour me."

He climbed up over René and pinned him down, nuzzling into his neck. "Talk to me."

"Er," said René. "Is this a new kink of yours, or have you always had it? Because seriously, talk about what? Or do you just want the sound of my dulcet tones?"

"My God, you're an unhelpful bastard…"

"I'm a very confused bastard who's having his neck licked, and finding it very difficult to think," René pointed out. "Olivier, what are you on about?"

Olivier sighed heavily against René's neck, then raised his head, "I'm talking about our living arrangements. If you're an unhelpful and confused bastard then I need to be dubbed a grouchy, moody, old bastard. I'm used to living alone. I'm not exactly a complete slob and I am trainable but….I guess what I'm getting at is how much can you allow me into your space without it driving you crazy? Sharing a house is one thing… sharing a room is beyond that."

René blinked at him for a few moments, and then drew a long breath of comprehension. "Oh," he said, as though Olivier had just explained a millennium problem to him in one-syllable words. "Olivier, did you honestly think this hadn't occurred to me? I do know I'm not entirely sane about things being orderly, you realize – but if that was what I wanted for ever and for always, I wouldn't have even admitted I knew you were genuine weeks ago. I'm not allowing you into my space. I already made mental space for you and any clutter you might bring in attendance, back before Georges went on trial. As far as my poor bloody brain is concerned, you are in. It's just…now it's a fact rather than a theory. Which I'm really hoping I don't screw up," he added somewhat apologetically.

"You won't." Olivier leaned down to kiss him, deeply and roughly. "I just-- We…"

"What?" René asked, as he pulled Olivier's robe down off his shoulders.

"Are we done talking?" Olivier asked, as René began nibbling on his chest. "No… we're done talking . No more talking."

"Thank God for that," said René, and grinned against Olivier's skin like the Cheshire cat, only in this case it was the grin he could only feel, rather than only see.

Then his mouth moved lower, and Olivier stopped thinking about anything except here and now.


Later, half-dozing, he heard René speaking quietly into the growing dawn, words he could only barely understand, and woke himself fully, shifting up in the wreckage of the bed to prop himself on one elbow and stare down into Rene's peaceful, wide-awake face.

"What was that?"

"Neruda," René said simply, and Olivier made a face.

"I hate Neruda."

"I don't much care what you think about Neruda," René pointed out, his eyes narrowing a little. "Since you didn't understand what I was saying, it's hardly important, is it?"

Olivier widened his eyes innocently. "Is it?" he repeated, and Rene sighed in annoyance.

"It's a poem –"

"Well, yeah, René, it's always a fucking poem with you –"

"Shut up," René said with a faint snort of laughter. "Let me finish a sentence, would you? It's a poem I used to think of – when things were bad."

Olivier's mind flashed to the little collection of books within easy reach of anyone who sat in René's desk-chair, and he thought once more of the Brecht –

I want to go with the one I love

- and nodded. "Tell me?" he asked, putting his hand over the hollow of René's throat, over the beating pulse and the rising heat of embarrassment in his skin. "I want to know..."

When René started speaking, it was like being taken back in time, to that first meeting during the hideous party that was supposed to be in his honour, to the same low, quiet voice providing a focal point, a way of seeing things outside bleakness, an insight into this man's life that now he no longer had to fight for, but was being given freely.

"I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way

than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep."

So René had known what he was doing, had understood, had felt a longing for it himself, and –

"My God," Olivier said, delighted, "you're a romantic!"

René caught his breath on something, coughed, coughed more with his eyes streaming, and finally croaked out –

"Good Christ, Olivier, how long did it take you to work that out?"

It was Olivier's turn to go red, as the early morning light began to flood the room, and he thought in delight, as René muttered something he didn't particularly want to know about with regard to roving hands, and suited his actions to the words, that they were going to be very, very late for work.

He couldn't have cared less.


"Really? You're kidding? He did what now? With a shoelace? How did he manage to---?"

"Is that a personal call, du Vallon?" De Treville spoke at Isa's elbow, causing him to jump and make a distinctly girly sound.

"Ah-eeeep!" Isa's heart skipped a beat and then restarted at a frantic pace. He took a deep breath, and let it out slowly, but his voice still hit the upper registers when he managed to answer. "Um… no sir, absolutely not a personal call," he croaked out, and then turned back to his call. "Yes, Madame Aucoin… I'll send an officer right over to check that out."

De Treville chuckled, "Your neighbour again?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, we can humour our watchful citizens. Call it downstairs." De Treville's eyes twinkled, "I think Officer Rochet is on duty at the moment. Tell him I requested him personally to check it out."

The twinkle, Isa decided, was made up of nine parts evil and one part smugness, and had nothing avuncular about it at all, no matter what the man liked to tell himself.

"You want me to talk to Rochet," he said gloomily. "Thanks."

"Consider it a gift," de Treville said happily, and disappeared back into his office while Isa watched him go with distinctly murderous thoughts.

"I can hear you thinking, Isa…" came his voice as the door shut, and Isa whimpered quietly to himself before picking up the phone again and dialling through to Rochet's division.

"Du Vallon. You've got a call on line two," Dufay's voice interrupted him, and he cut the call off.

"Saved by the bell," he sighed with relief and picked up line two. "Du Vallon. How can I-- Oh…Hello, Claire."

Isa wondered what he could possibly have done in the recent past to make God hate him so much. "No, Olivier hasn't come in yet. No… well, yeah, he is a bit later than usual. Maybe he— No, René isn't in yet ei – God."

He held the phone away from his ear to save it from the high pitched cursing that was coming over the line.

"Ow," he mouthed at Dufay, who looked completely blank and offered up a shrug, apparently not blessed with psychic powers or indeed – Isa winced as he tentatively brought the phone back towards his ear again – semi-decent hearing. "Yeah. Claire. Not here. They're not. Either of them. I'm not here. Bye."

He hung up to the sight of Dufay starting to laugh at him, completely silently and all the more unnervingly for it. "Not your day with phones, is it?" he asked with a distinct lack of sympathy.

"Yeah, no," Isa said with feeling, and checked his watch against the clock on the wall. "Where the fuck are they, anyway?"

Dufay shrugged, "Haven't heard from them. No message, no call in. You think there's a problem other than normal tardiness?"

Isa frowned, "Maybe car trouble or traffic or something?"

"Wouldn't they still have called?"

"You'd think—"

The sound of voices outside the door cut him off, "Oh, there they are."

"Thanks so much for turning up," he said irritably as Olivier came through the door. "Really. Great. Because I so wanted the morning I've so far had on my own."

"That's fine, then," Olivier said, obviously not listening to him at all, and Isa, for a brief and glorious moment, contemplated violence.

"René, can't you make him get up on time?" he demanded of the other late arrival, who startled him by turning round from where he was hanging up his coat with an expression of what, for René, was pure and absolute horror. It just looked like a mild twitch for a normal person, but Isa recognized it for what it was, and gestured wildly at the ceiling, as René opened and closed his mouth once, and then ventured –


His face was inexplicably red.

"What is wrong with everyone today?" Isa yelled at the room.

The phone rang again and Olivier answered it, "De la Fère. Aw, fu—" He held the phone away from his ear allowing everyone else to hear the shrill voice on the other end. "Yes, good morning to you too, Claire. That's right. Our divorce was final as of yesterday. No… you may not ask – because who the fuck I choose to fuck is no longer any of your fucking business, that's why the fuck not."

"Wow." Isa blinked. That was an impressive sentence, even for Olivier.

"Don't call me any more today, Claire… you won't get the answer you want to hear so you're wasting my time and your own."

"And you managed that sentence without fucking anything," Isa said, starting to laugh as he rather belatedly made a few connections and suspected he had definitely added two and two together to make a nice even number of four. "Or at least saying it. Thinking it, though…"

He thought he might actually have deserved René's hand hitting him none too gently on the top of his head.

"Stop it," René said. He was still, Isa noted delightedly, a little red. "You're being a brat."

"I'm being perceptive," Isa denied, still grinning. "Because that's what detectives dooooo…"

"What, drive everyone insane?" René asked, and then ducked as the phone went flying across the office and shattered against the wall. "Will you look out before you take things out on inanimate objects?" he snapped at Olivier. Apparently whatever they had been doing had not altered his basic reactions in the slightest.

"Sorry," Olivier shrugged.

"And wow again, he apologized." Isa cackled. "You should get divorced every day…"

René scowled and raised his hand again.

"…or not…"

"Er," said Olivier coherently, looking between them. "Is this a conversation that makes sense to anyone but you, Isa, or can we all join in?"

"Yes!" Isa said brightly and obnoxiously. "But I don't want to, thanks for the offer."

"What?" Olivier stared at him, utterly blank.

"Oh God," René muttered.

"I don't want to have sex with you. Either of you. Or both of you. Or – yeah, you. Or you," he added kindly to a gaping Dufay, in case he felt left out or, God forbid, excluded from the list of People Isa Never Wanted To Have Sex With.

Dufay just looked horrified, grabbed a handful of files off his desk and muttering something about, "File room" made his escape.

"Yes, Isa… thank you for that." Olivier still looked a bit blank. "Whatever it was."

"I don't think he wants to have sex," René said. His mouth was twitching.

"With you," Isa clarified. "Either –"

"Yes, I got that, thank you!" Olivier said quickly. "Just why – what –"

"Oh please don't ask him," René moaned.

"Because you did," Isa said smugly. From Olivier's expression, he had finally caught up.

"What – are you some kind of sex diviner or something?"


"Both of you shut up…"

"Isa, what have you done to Dufay?" Kitty came into the bullpen, then stopped, looking at the smashed bits of plastic that had once been Olivier's phone.

"Nothing." Isa answered. "And I explained to him very carefully that I didn't want to either."

"Didn't want to what?" she asked.

"Never mind!" Olivier and René said at the same time.

"Have sex with him," Isa said into the resulting embarrassed pause.

"Okay," Kitty said slowly. "Was he offering?"

"I so wish I hadn't come into work today," René said to no-one in particular.

"Me too." Olivier seconded.

"Is that why you were late?" Isa cackled.

"Isa." Kitty punched him in the shoulder. "What the hell are you talking about?"


"Well, yeah, like that's anything new," Kitty rolled her eyes. "But why in particular?"

"Olivier's divorce was final yesterday."

"So now we scar Dufay because Olivier got divorced? That's a new way of celebrating," Kitty said, looking at him as though he'd lost his mind, which he was starting to wonder about. "Hey – why wasn't there celebrating?"

"Oh, there was," Isa said, and snickered.

"Oh, well, great! So thanks a lot for inviting me," Kitty said, sounding genuinely offended.

"Private party," Isa said, drawing the words out as lecherously as he could. "Veeeeery private party."

"Isa, if you don't shut up I will shoot you," René said rather desperately.

"Oh?" Kitty looked puzzled for just a moment then brightened, breaking into a dazzling smile. "Oh!! Yay!!"

She ran over and hugged René, then grabbed Olivier's hands and danced him around in a circle. "That's so amazing. I mean, not that you having sex is amazing, because really it's no surprise, but...oh, I mean I'm sure the sex was amazing and all that, but I'm really talking about you getting together and stuff."

"And now I feel as though I've been press ganged into a playground game," Olivier said. "Which is wrong and creepy and should not be in any way associated with thoughts or discussion of sex, and Isa, I will get you for this – Kitty, let go, please!"

"But it's so great!" Kitty's voice was hitting bat levels.

"It was considerably more great ten minutes ago," René said to the carpeting. His look at Isa was incredibly unfriendly.

"Oh, don't you want everyone to share in your happiness?" Isa asked in saccharine tones.

"Yes," René said flatly. "I shall invite all of them to your funeral to do so. I'll make sure it's lovely and I'll pay for the flowers."

"That'd be no, then," Isa said, unable to stop grinning. Olivier's expression was priceless as Kitty hugged him yet again.

"What, did Claire call again?" Now Connie was standing over the ruin of Olivier's phone, poking at it with one impeccably clad foot. "Really, Olivier, I have better things to do than ordering new phones to replace the ones you've smashed."

"I have better things to do than listen to this lot talk about sex, but I don't get a say!" de Treville yelled from his office.

"Why are we talking about – oh God, you didn't sleep with her again, did you?" Connie asked disgustedly.

"How does everyone know about that?" Olivier asked in exasperation. It was apparently the ceiling's day for being included in conversation.

"Um, mostly the love bites," Isa said. "Also the scratches. And the –" He made a gesture over his arm. "Bruise things."

"I asked," Olivier said gloomily.

"And the world hates you for it, yes," René agreed.

"No, Connie. I did not sleep with Claire. I'm not going to sleep with Claire. And could we, in future, refrain from discussing my sex life in any way, shape or form? Please." Olivier scrubbed his hands over his face.

"Olivier's divorce came through…and he slept with René." Kitty leaned in toward Connie, lowering her voice.

"Please, God, why does no one listen to me?" Oliver looked up at the ceiling again.

"Because it's boring," Isa said.

"Am I the only one who thinks that was a really stupid idea?" asked Connie sharply, and René froze.

"Listening to Olivier?" he asked in the lightest voice Isa had ever heard from him, an untethered little question that had nothing to do with reality at all. "Always."

This is what Keller sounded like, Isa thought in sudden panic. Oh my fucking God, this is what Keller sounded like.

And he had no idea of what to do.

And no idea why Connie would say anything like that.

"Don't look at me like that," Connie rolled her eyes. "I don't mean because you're both male. I mean because Olivier just went through a horrible divorce, which he still has issues about, apparently."

She again poked at the broken phone. "And you, René. You've just gone through a few pretty nasty months yourself. And now, what? You think you're in love? Sounds more like a bad case of rebound and drama just waiting to happen."

"I have never understood," René said to the room in general, "where the phrase 'think you're in love' came from. You can't think yourself into love or out of it, if life were that bloody simple then –" He stopped abruptly, but he had at least sounded like himself, if a perfectly furious version of him. Isa winced.

"Connie –"

"I don't want my sentences analysed," she said, looking equally annoyed. "God. God, René, can't you just accept that this is all going to be a disaster? You're not equipped for a relationship and I don't think Olivier ever will be again, and I don't see why I get to be the bad guy for not wanting to watch you tear each other apart in the name of something so – cloudy!"

"Connie," Isa tried again.

"No, Isa." Olivier stopped him. "Let her say what she thinks. It's fine. René and I have done a lot of thinking about just those things since he came home. If she can add something that we haven't considered I welcome it. But…" He looked Connie right in the eye, his voice a deep growl. "This is your one chance. Your only chance. Because René and I are full grown men, not teenagers. So I'd ask you to think about it before you say anything else."

"There's no point," Connie said, and she sounded strangely sad, almost as though she were the one to have had her heart broken in the way she was prophesying would happen to them. "There's no point, is there. You wouldn't listen and you wouldn't care, and why should you? It all seems fine and you know, most of me wants it to be so badly – I do. But – it can't be." She shrugged, a small, one-shouldered gesture that made her look somehow very tired and very small. "It can't be. You'll leave everyone with pieces to pick up and say it was love. You can't ask me to be happy for you, knowing that. You can't ask me to look at what you've called love, Olivier, and expect me to believe you've had – what? A sea-change? Life doesn't work like this, people don't work like this! You can go on believing in what you've got now for as long as you have it and it won't make it real. It won't make it last."

"So what, I should settle for second best because at least it won't run away from me?" Olivier demanded. "Is that what you did?"

"Oh Christ," René said softly. "Enough. Enough. Let it go, will you –"

"Maybe I did," Connie said, quiet and brittle and something aching in her voice. "But I'm not in pieces, either. And no-one has to put me back together or worry about me or be afraid for me. So I'd say on that one? I win."

She turned around and walked back out, having forgotten whatever it was she had come for, her dark head very straight on her set shoulders, and Isa sighed.

"Damn it, Olivier –"

"I'll just –" Kitty gestured frantically, and hurried out after Connie.

"Don't even start, Isa." Olivier looked at him. "I might have been out of line… but so was she. And yes, René, I'm done. Enough airing of personal business in public."

And as if to illustrate his decision, he stomped back to his desk and turned on his computer.

"Thank God…" came a pitiful sounding voice from de Treville's office.

"You know when you said you wished you hadn't come into work this morning?" Isa said to René.

"Yes." It was more a breathed out sigh than anything, as René went to his own desk and stood staring in disbelief at all the papers that somehow seemed to have bred there overnight. "Oh very yes. How have I got all this –"

"I kind of wish you hadn't too," Isa said honestly, ignoring Olivier's glower.

"Yes," René agreed, and sat down at his desk, putting his head, very briefly, into his hands. "I thought you might. Is that because you agree with –"

"No, it's because I never want to have to listen to another conversation like that as long as I live and I really didn't want to hear it before lunch," Isa said quickly before René could go any further down that route. "But the rest of it? Fuck joking, René, I don't agree with her assessment and I wouldn't make myself try. 'Cause if anyone knows what the cost is for fucking about on something like this –"

"Right," René said dryly. "Is this where you threaten me with grievous bodily harm if I screw it up?"

"Yeah," Isa said, and felt his good mood returning. "And you, too," he added to Olivier. "Both of you. Either of you. Janitor's cupboards and broken teeth and broken jaws and bloody noses won't be in it if I find out you've gone down that path she just outlined. Got it?"

Olivier's smile was sudden and unexpected and strangely happy.

"Got it," he said. "Thanks, Isa."

René just flapped a hand and started sifting through the papers in front of him.

"Yes," he said absently, already immersed in whatever he was reading, but the corners of his eyes were creased up slightly, mirroring Olivier's smile.

"Heh, I am awesome," Isa said smugly, and went back to fighting with his computer, which promptly disproved his statement by producing the blue screen of death. "Oh, fuck…"

"No," said René and Olivier at the same time, and Isa folded his arms over his chest and pouted.

Well, shit. Now I'm going to be ganged up on…

He grinned to himself. I can take them. No problem.

"And stop smirking!" de Treville yelled, and Isa banged his knee on the underside of his desk for what he suspected was not going to be the last time of the morning.

Him, on the other hand…

"Mm," René murmured, reading his mind again. "No, I agree. Don't try."

Isa snorted, and kicked his computer.

"And why," he demanded, "have we no computer guy yet?"

No answer, as was more common than not when it came to what was rapidly becoming a rhetorical question, came the stern reply.

Isa, looking around him at a new world, couldn't have been happier.



Two Years Later

Send danger from the east unto the west,
So honour cross it from the north to south,
And let them grapple.

- Hotspur, Henry IV Part 1.


The door to the bullpen swung shut behind Olivier as he shuffled towards his desk. Work had been insanity over the last few weeks, or months if he were honest with himself. It had been full of horrid press conferences, drug busts and, of all things, a juvenile theft ring that would have made Fagin proud. It had all been settled, with only the paperwork and court dates left to manage.

"Yes, and thank you so very much for leaving me to deal with that." René's voice rang out as he followed Olivier into the office.

They'd been waylaid by Connie about expense reports the moment they'd walked into the building. Something about a discrepancy in some form they needed and didn't have.

"You're the King of Finances, René, not me…" which was true, but not the reason he'd abruptly excused himself from the conversation.

It had been two years since he and René had started trying to make some kind of life together. Two years of loving and, yes, fighting, and being partners in every sense of the word…and Connie still gave them looks as if she were trying to find a crack some place. He had been just tired enough that morning that he couldn't put a smile on for her.

Even knowing she cared, that she was genuinely worried and had never stopped being afraid for them, that she had been prepared to fight for them with her father with regard to being allowed to work together when he had briefly queried their ability to do so, didn't change how he felt on days like this, when the world had left a sour taste in his mouth from the moment he woke up, and he viewed it all through a haze of weary jaundice.

Connie had been right about one thing – which added to his inability to deal with her on occasion. He would never fully recover from his marriage to Claire, never have her entirely out of his system. She informed his every reaction to women, his every emotional choice – as though she truly had been a drug that he might have relinquished, but would always be addicted to. His belief that he had been completely over her had been misfounded, based on the fact that with something to aim for in knowing he stood a chance with René, that he had something to work towards and something to prove, and a reason to hold himself steady to accomplish both, he had been driven by hope. But that achieved, with his only goal that of making things work, and knowing that he would quite often get things wrong when he most needed them to go slowly, the hope had become irrelevant, and he had become aware of just how truly suffused and informed he was always going to be by the nuclear fallout of what his marriage had become.

It would have, he thought, been easier to ignore if Claire were truly out of his life, but somehow she never quite seemed to be. She appeared frequently, usually at the least propitious moment, called him on the phone daily at times, and always, always, always with some request or insult that was absolutely guaranteed to make him see red. What was it the old song said? 'How can I miss you if you won't go away?' Bad song, terrible song, but with very appropriate lyrics.

"Yes, but why must I also be the King Of Missing Paperwork?" René asked. Olivier hoped it was rhetorical, because he was nowhere near being in the mood for another discussion as to why René's was the desk where everyone's paperwork ended up. Admittedly, he could do it faster than just about everyone, which left Olivier wondering as to exactly what the Interior's training was like, but that didn't mean he liked it any better than the next man – and as the next man was usually Isa, that meant not at all.

A pointed look at the never-ending mound of paper was more than enough answer to that question, but Olivier went over and hung up René's coat by way of an apology for his earlier desertion, "Coffee?"

"That depends on whether it got left on overnight or not," René said with the swiftness of long and unpleasant experience. Olivier thought about the times he had been unable to tell before actually drinking it, and accepted René's refusal of the role of guinea pig with a faint grimace.

"Yeah, okay, how about I tell someone to go and get coffee?"

"How about I am awesome and I did?" Isa demanded cheerfully. His T-shirt read, somewhat disturbingly, 'I am God'.

Olivier, just at that moment, would not have cared if he were The Grinch That Stole Christmas, as long as he gave him the coffee, as quickly as possible. "Yes, please."

René peered at the cups, "Which is which?"

"One skinny mocha latte for Olivier – to sweeten his disposition without widening his waistline."

Wonderful. He was a straight line in a world of comedians.

"Thanks," he said rather bitterly. "Just what I've always wanted…"

"I did ask them for two extra shots of espresso -" Isa continued, and René muttered –

"Just what we've all always wanted…Olivier and a caffeine headache…"

"- but they'd only give me one and a half."


Isa shrugged. "Maybe they'd only give me three. Being as, you know, double shots. So one and a half is three."

"So I basically have flavourless chocolate and caffeine in a cup?"

"Um, yeah."

"Do I dare even ask what you got me?" René said worriedly, peering at the lidded cups as though they contained cyanide.

"Um…" Isa checked the palm of his hand. "Yeah, ordinary latte with peppermint syrup and whipped cream and chocolate and cinnamon on top."

René looked at the cups with loathing. "You're kidding. Why?"

"Because you need a pretty, girly drink."

"No, I need a cup of coffee. This is not coffee. This is an abomination." René scowled at him.

"Well, you don't have to drink it. There's always…." Isa pointed at the dubious office coffee pot.

"Oh, look… how pretty," René said blandly and picked up his cup.

The expression on his face was almost, Olivier thought, worth it. In a not-at-all because that would be taken out of Isa at some point when he was least expecting it, and probably involve him in ways he didn't want to know about, sort of way.

"Jesus," René said with fervour, trying to scrape his tongue with his teeth. "Oh my God. That is foul. Christ."

Isa pointed triumphantly to his t-shirt.

"Truly, this is not the son of God," de Treville said on his way past.

Isa chuckled and picked up his own coffee, "Oh, by the way, Lis and I are planning a little celebratory party for next Saturday evening, so keep that open, okay?"

"Oh?" Olivier took a drink of his mostly tasteless drink, grimacing at the bitterness the shots had added. "What are you celebrating?"

"Lis and I got married over the weekend."

"What?!" He almost spewed the coffee across the room.

René opened up his computer and peered at the corner suspiciously.

"Er, didn't you hear me?" Isa asked.

"Yes," René acknowledged. "But I'm checking the date. Because if it's April first, I get to kill you."

"No, that was – months ago?" For once, Isa was the one to sound bemused.

"I'm still checking," René said obscurely.

"And I'm calling the hospital," Olivier muttered.

"To congratulate Lissa?"

"No, to warn them that one of their nurses is functioning at a severely diminished capacity." Olivier answered. "Because if you got her to marry you, she must have been drunk, or on drugs, or insane."

"Thanks a lot!" Isa said, sounding genuinely offended. "And this would be why you didn't get invited to the registry office, you charmers!"

"No, we didn't get invited because you are an enormous cock who thought we'd embarrass you somehow," René said pithily. "Talk about charming, Isa, you're about as charming as a Borgia when you put your mind to it…"

"No no no!" Isa waved his hands frantically. "It wasn't like that. It so wasn't like that. I just thought maybe she'd change her mind and I wouldn't have blamed her and it's kind of nice having a relationship with a woman Olivier doesn't actively hate and if I'd invited him and she hadn't shown up he would have totally decided to hate her and you wouldn't have been able to not tell him if I'd invited you and it just made more sense and anyway I thought the Borgias were charming so there!"

"Okay." Olivier raised an eyebrow at René. "I think I'm completely insulted by all of that. You?"

He didn't hate women, honestly, he just didn't have a lot of use for most of them any more. But Lissa was all right. She was good and honest and not at all deceptive. Oh, she still tried to manoeuvre them, but she'd generally come right out and tell them she was, so it wasn't a problem as far as he was concerned.

"Oh so very yes," René agreed, giving Isa one of his best looks of flat disbelief. "I don't think he managed a single character attribute there that wasn't despicable."

Isa crossed his arms and pouted. "You are both horrible and mean and you're harshing my squee," he said, and René choked.

"I'm whatting, now?"

"Harshing my squee," Isa repeated, saying the words very slowly. "Bringing me down. Putting a damper on my high spirits."

"Ah," René nodded. "You're getting "Phrase of the Day" from the Urban Dictionary again, aren't you?"


"Stop," René suggested. "You're quite annoying enough without."

"Does this mean you don't want to come to the party?"

"No, it means I'm going to make your life hell for the next few years about the wedding no-one got invited to so we're not sure you have proof it ever happened," Olivier said smugly.

"And I am refusing in advance to fill out all your change of status forms," René added.

"And getting some work done would be nice, if you children are done with your game of one-up," de Treville called out from his office.

"Still not filling them in…"

"I can do that myself…"

"WORK!" de Treville roared. "My God, I'm surrounded by imbeciles, cretins and time-wasters, and if I see one record of a computer breaking into the records of marriages this past weekend, I will stop the entire department's wages out of spite."

"Yes, sir," they all three chorused. Isa, forgetting to pretend he was sulking, laughed and moved to his desk, ready for his daily computer battle, Olivier assumed.

Olivier's phone rang, "De la Fère. Yes… okay…right. And is that the same as the previous one? Fuck. Okay. Let me patch you through to the Captain."

"And what was the list of words we don't say on the phone again?" René asked mildly as Olivier made his transfer and hung up.

Olivier raised a finger toward René in answer.

"Yes, that's one of them…" René continued in the same tone, and then stopped, looking sharply at Olivier's face, which he was quite certain looked as grim as he felt. "Olivier? What is it?"

"They just had a shooting." Olivier frowned. "Remember that one that passed through about a week ago from Argenteuil? It's the same MO."

"The one with the Tarot Card clue?"

"Yeah…and this one's got Sûreté links."

"Which goes infinitely too neatly with the Interpol killing two weeks ago," René said angrily. "Damn it…"

"And also? That's twice," Isa said, looking up from his struggle with his virus-laden and probably contagious computer. "One more and we've got ourselves a serial killer."

"Yes, perhaps you could sound a little less pleased about that?" René suggested.

"He's right though," de Treville stepped out of his office. "And if it comes to that, the case will be falling right into our laps. So, gentlemen, I would suggest you prepare for that possibility and try to get rid of some of your current casework."

"I don't love you any more," René said pathetically, looking at his desk.

"I'm disturbed to discover you ever did," de Treville pointed out, and left them to it.


René liked to think of himself as an efficient man, if not a particularly good one. He was therefore a little disconcerted to discover that he was more troubled by the fact the paperwork on his desk was apparently going forth and joyfully multiplying in front of his eyes than by the fact that someone else had been shot by a killer who apparently had a fascination with the Tarot.

Of course, that was practicality as well. The paperwork was here in front of him, while the possibility of the Tarot card case was still a nebulous 'maybe'.

"Do you love me?" a little voice suddenly whispered quietly in his ear, and he chuckled.

"No, Kitty, you're a horrid child with nasty habits."

"Humpf," she replied rudely. "Then I won't ask Julie to take any of your paperwork away."

"I take it all back," René said hastily. "You are an angel, a living saint, and I adore you madly. And how did you know?"

"I'm working with Rochet," Kitty said, which, while doing nothing to explain her sudden access of information, did a hell of a lot to explain why she was wearing her hair in pigtails and had black lipstick on.

"My condolences," René grimaced for her. Officer Rochet had moved up the ranks in the last two years but was still no more pleasant than he had been when he tried to arrest Isa. And, apparently, from the accounts of every female he'd worked with, he was also "a sleezoid". He never laid a hand on them, but according to Kitty, even his eyes made her feel slimy.

Kitty grinned, the effect startling against her black lips. "Save them for him," she said. "I'm driving him insane."

"Hooray," René said dryly. "Not that he had far to go, but yes, he gets my condolences too…"

"You're supposed to say I couldn't possibly do such a thing," Kitty said, starting to pout, and René hastily deflected her before it could turn into a day-long agenda to render him as mad as Rochet.

"So how come you missed Isa's wedding too?" he asked sweetly. "I've heard all the reasons as to why Olivier was persona non grata, and I come under that category too by association, but seriously, did you have a previous appointment?"

Isa made frantic throat-cutting gestures at him, and René grinned back nastily.

"What?" Her eyes flashed to Isa. "You did what? And you didn't invite me?"


"Who the hell did you take for witnesses then, since you so kindly uninvited your best friends?"

"We got people off the street," Isa mumbled. It seemed to finally be occurring to him just how fantastic an idea he hadn't had.

"I don't know whether you're romantic or a twat," Kitty said at last.

"Twat," Olivier muttered. "Definitely twat."

"Hey." Isa began, then paused and poked at his frozen computer. "You're all supposed to be happy for me. Instead I have growly people, and insults, and this…stupid…thing…"

"We're happy for you!" Kitty said quickly. "We are! I am," she added, with a faintly accusatory look at René. "They're just mean."

"How the fuck am I the bad guy?" René demanded.

"What are the words we don't use on the phone?" Olivier asked sweetly and unhelpfully.

"I'm not on the phone, you annoying bastard, I'm trying to find out what it is about marriages – even ones that people don't get invited to - that make normally sensible people turn into mush."

"Have you got photos?" Kitty asked, bouncing over to Isa and ignoring him.

Isa proudly pulled out his phone to show her. "It was all very quick but… "

"Marriage never turned me into mush." Olivier grumbled over the top of Isa and Kitty's share-time.

"Duly noted," René agreed dryly. "Let's not say what it did turn you into, shall we?" He could genuinely see Isa's point as to why he hadn't let anyone near the registry office, much though he hated to admit it. Olivier and marriage were still subjects that should never be put on the same continent, let alone in the same room.

"Nice for them though," Olivier added grudgingly, jerking his chin towards Isa.

René just blinked for several long moments. After two years, there were still times when Olivier could surprise him.

"Yes," he settled for agreeing, but he felt the smile curl at his mouth, small and private and so very betraying, because he knew it said for him all the things he could never say out loud without being hit – and deservedly – among them the feeling that sometimes overwhelmed him, the desire to say without sounding like a patronizing fool –

I am so proud of you, sometimes. So amazed that I can know you.

….I do not want to calculate the cost, I never did, I do not care, but I care that you have paid it, sometimes.

I love you.

"This is the best one," Isa said, pointing to his phone. "Isn't she beautiful?"

"Awww," Kitty made a sweet face, then punched Isa in the shoulder. "And I wasn't there to see it, you arse!"

"Kitty, please stop molesting my detectives," de Treville said patiently. "And I still don't see any work getting done."

"My computer's broken."

"And I care about this why?"

"Because I can't do any work with my computer broken," Isa said, looking pathetic.

"You could do paperwork," René said rather sourly.

"I haven't got any!"

Silently, everyone looked at Exhibit A, which continued to look as though a filing cabinet had exploded in the near vicinity of René's desk.

"…that's his paperwork?"

"And now it's half yours," de Treville said, magnanimously. "And I'll arrange for someone to come look at your computer… mine's been acting up a bit too."

He started back towards the office, "Oh… and speaking of computers, before I forget, we've got a new tech assigned to us. He should be starting next Wednesday. "

"And do we get to know what this one's called?" Olivier asked. "Or are we assuming we'll scare him off in hours and don't need to?"

"D'Artagnan," de Treville said, with an eye roll visible from across the room. "Jean D'Artagnan. And his father's a friend of mine, so if you scare him off I will take it very personally indeed…"

He shut the door on everyone's protestations of innocence.

"Seriously, did he know everyone's father?" Isa demanded.

"Well, not yours," René said sweetly, "being as you didn't even have a mother, as far as we know, going by the general consensus that you were hatched and then raised by wolves, but yes, probably."

Kitty patted Olivier on the shoulder then held out her hand, "Here… give me money."

René was amused to note that Olivier just drew out his wallet. If any other female had made the same request there would certainly have been ranting, and possibly very foul language.

"Am I allowed to ask what for?" was Olivier's only comment as he passed over several bills.

"Flowers. For Lissa." Kitty suddenly scowled over at Isa. "I'm sure she isn't keeping this a secret from her co-workers."

"I didn't keep it a secret, I told you!" Isa protested.

"I bet she told them first," Kitty retorted unanswerably, since there would be no way of proving it or not.

"Make sure you put lilies in the bouquet," Olivier said dryly, and then "Ow!" when Kitty punched him.

"Molesting!" de Treville's voice echoed from his offices.

"Just going, sir," Kitty said brightly and scampered out the door, her plaid schoolgirl skirt swishing as she went.

"Why is she dressed as a – actually, what is she dressed as?" Olivier demanded.

"Rochet," René explained.

"No, Rochet doesn't – oh." Olivier grinned. "Right."

"And thank you for that horribly scarring thought," René agreed, "no, he doesn't, let's all thank God for it and never mention it again, shall we?"

"You won't hear a word from me." Olivier smirked.

"My computer's still not working," Isa said forlornly and Olivier went over to see if he could help him. Or possibly just to turn it off, since that appeared to be the first thing he did as far as René could tell.

He turned back to his own desk and its deluge of paper and began sorting out some for Isa's benefit.

His mind continued to work over what he knew was waiting for them. Despite Isa's assertion that there needed to be three killings for it to be classed as a serial killer, he was fairly sure they could count on that happening.

His hands sifted through the papers, organizing and collating, while his thoughts turned to Rome, and the dead agents in the Tiber.

De Winter was more worried about them than anything du Plessis could come up with…

And now someone was targeting employees of Interpol and the Sûreté .

Lend me grace, he thought of the deity he had last pleaded with in the Roman church. Lend me grace.

This time, let me be the one to stop it, let me stop being the one who walks away, let me be the one who brings it to an end…

"René?" Olivier asked, frowning over at him.

"Nothing," he said. "Nothing, just thinking."

"It didn't look…good," Olivier said slowly, and René shook his head.

"No," he agreed, because he no longer tried to conceal these things, knew it to be pointless, knew it to be something that could only ever cause pain.

I am not the monk.

"No, it wasn't. I was thinking of Rome…"

"Yeah, well, that's not going to happen this time, so stop," Olivier said firmly, and René took a deep breath, before nodding.

But the voice from Rome still whispered in his mind –

Remember, you too are mortal…

Was it now, now with everything they had to lose, with all the tenuous happiness they had earned with such difficulty finally there in the palms of their hands, that they were to pay the price for his failure back then? Had he made, not the choice of sanity and morality, but the very opposite, in giving in to du Plessis?

He got up from his desk, and went over to the window, looking out at the square and the people passing beneath, at a world that spun out, and out, and out beyond where his gaze could ever follow them, where they were innocent and unprotected and relied only upon the word of people like him to keep them safe.

People like him and Olivier and Isa.

People like the dead agents in the Tiber, and the dead men found with their Tarot cards beside them, their fates spun out and still foretold.

Why do I feel as though our cards are waiting too?

He turned from the window, and smiled, as the first autumn leaves fell from the trees, their shadows flickering in the corner of his eye, tumbling to the square below, and he heard a child laughing, her quick, booted footsteps as she ran in her rain gear to catch them.

One for every day of happiness….catch me a week, catch me a day, catch me something to make what we have here last, for however little time…

Catch me one broken leaf that I might make a day whole, and I think I will be content…



"I think," René said slowly, "that you'd better start drawing up what you can on this man. Just in case."

"Just in case," Isa echoed, but the same knowledge was in his eyes as René had felt earlier.

"Just because," Olivier said, and shivered a little, as though a cloud had passed over the sun. "Just – because the third one will come. Because this won't stop. Because we don't understand and we don't know, and because –"

"Because this is what we do," René said, gathering himself together and dragging his thoughts away from that other window overlooking the Roman streets, and a terrible choice he thought now might have damned them all.

"Because this," Olivier said, "is who we are."

And outside, the leaves tore away from the trees, and fell.


Know that when all words are said
And a man is fighting mad,
Something drops from eyes long blind,
He completes his partial mind,
For an instant stands at ease,
Laughs aloud, his heart at peace.
Even the wisest man grows tense
With some sort of violence
Before he can accomplish fate,
Know his work or choose his mate.

- W. B. Yeats



This story is continued in The Book of Thoth. (This is an outside link.)