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Exhale Desire

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“Third one since Wednesday. Dark brown hair, brown eyes, freckles, all cashiers. Definitely has a type,” Carisi says, handing Mike the new file. “And he left more flowers than last time. ME says that this guy maybe has a week to live unless he finds whoever he’s really after.”

More flowers. It seems like every day, there’s another case where the perp had Hanahaki. No one’s sure where the disease came from, but one day a few years ago, cases started cropping up in the city. Unrequited love makes flowers- cherry blossoms, he thinks- grow in parasitic bunches in the lungs of the sufferer. They spread to the heart, stomach, brain and blood. The longer it goes on, the more they take, and the more painful it gets. Coughing and throwing up brings the flowers, usually bloody, into the open air where they move on tendril roots like bugs as opposed to plants. Some of the top scientists in the world have been studying it, but no one’s figured out yet what it is or where it came from or how to protect yourself. It seems contagious, but only if the unrequited love already exists. Sometimes it just grows on its own.

“We think the girl he’s looking for is either dead or out of the city. If he could get to her, he wouldn’t be chasing random girls down,” he adds.

Once it reaches the brain, they say there’s no hope. Like lesions, they inhibit impulse control and and rational thinking. Certain parts of the brain light up with increasing want until the victim can barely think about anything other than the love and affection of the object of their desires. From there, it’s always fatal. Usually the death is from complications- the immune system is too compromised to fend off an illness, or an absence of food, water, and/or sleep claim a wasted body. Too many times they’ve found an emaciated teenager in a puddle of their own blood on the floor of the school bathroom.

“And there are still no matches in the database, not even familial?”

Someone in the higher ups decided that all Hanahaki crimes are to be delegated to SVU because it ‘seems up your alley.’ Most of the related ones are assaults that would have gone to them anyways. The one good part about it, if there is one, is the fact that any affected perp leaves their bloody flowers at the crime scene, where DNA can tie them to it and try to bring them to justice before their clock runs out. Mike gets chills down his spine just thinking about it.

“Nada. Fin’s pulling security footage from the latest vic’s apartment building, see if we find anything useful.”

“Let me know if anything comes up,” Mike says.

All these days on the job and it never gets easier. Rollins and Benson are with the victim now in the hospital, getting a statement while the memory is still fresh in her mind. While it’s protocol and it does make sense to get details before time fades them, Mike has heard enough victims who remember every detail for years like it’s still happening. Things like these are hard, impossible even, to get over. No matter how far it’s pushed, it has a tendency to crop back up alone in the dark when silhouettes dance through the windows. He doesn’t know what they’re going through. At the same time, however, he thinks he gets parts of it from the nights where he wakes up in a cold sweat from the memories of his time in Iraq. Whether or not the experiences are even close to comparable, he doesn’t know, but it’s the only way he can think to try and understand what they’re going through.

Like with the victims, he tries to empathize with the perps sometimes too. By getting into their head, he can get a lot better picture of where they are, where they’ll go, and what’ll make them break. It’s that skill that made him such a good interrogator, and a still phenomenal one now. No matter how much disgust it fills him with, he’s gotten good at melding his thoughts into those of the perp. The Hanahaki cases aren’t as hard as the others, usually, because he has a faint idea of what it’s like.

He looks across the room at where Carisi is bent over Fin’s desk, pointing at something on the screen and whispering about whatever it is that he sees. Carisi, while maybe not the most considerate or respected of the detectives, has something enthralling about him. Maybe it’s his thick Staten accent that coats his words in a heavy film. Or his boyish smile and dimples that he never grew out of. Or his bright blue eyes that sparkle when he’s excited or proud. Or his exaggerated gesturing with his long fingered hands when he talks. Or his slim-fitting three piece suits that are always perfectly tailored to his body. Or his brilliant laugh that fills a room.

Mike shakes his head and looks away. He’s straight, and he has a fiancée, Alice. They’re happy together. The wedding isn’t any time soon, doesn’t need to be because they have their whole lives ahead of them to make it perfect. When the job weighs down on him, he can always go home to Alice and kiss her until he forgets.

The board in front of him is covered with pictures of the victims, police sketches, case notes and maps with red circles on them in thick marker. The perp they’re looking for is caucasian, with blonde hair, brown eyes, and a scar on his left wrist. He’s in his early twenties with a smooth, high pitched voice, and he’s always dressed like a businessman, down to his nice leather shoes that left clean size nine footprints in the dirt outside one victim’s apartments. Since he’s going after a specific type over and over with different victims, it’s likely that his love is for someone dead or unreachable. Based on the location of the victims’ jobs, the perp lives in downtown Manhattan. He’s not violent with the victims except for subduing them, and he commands them to tell him they love him. By described urgency of his voice and the amount of flowers left behind, they know he’s in the later stages of the disease. It wouldn’t be a shock if he dies before being caught, but Mike wants to think they can be faster than that. It would help if they had something, anything to go off of.

“Hey, Serge,” Fin calls. “We don’t have a face, but we have a license plate. The guy gets in and drives away, leaving a trail of flowers and blood on his way in.”

He glances over at Carisi and Fin. “Run it through the DMV and question the owner. Let me know what you find.”

“On it.”

On his way out, Carisi pulls on his long tan coat. It’s always been one that Mike likes on him, although he isn’t sure why. Probably because he wishes he could pull off a style like that, Normal length sport coats are more his style, even if they’re never as warm. He hones his attention in on the board again, willing it to give him a lead. Without the other detectives around, the precinct feels too quiet, which doesn’t help. When he was younger, silence helped him focus, but now it just makes him antsy.

He clears his throat to dispel a faint tickle, but it only makes it worse. Furrowing his brows, he does it again, but the tickle turns to an itch that he can barely breathe around. The sensation sends him into a coughing fit, so harsh he has to grip the edge of the table with white knuckles until whatever’s blocking his airway comes out onto his sleeve. His heart skips a beat at the sight of what’s come. A single delicate pink cherry blossom with a smear of blood on one of the petals rests against the charcoal fabric of his jacket. With a morbid curiosity, he picks it up and its pulsating roots curl around his fingers like tentacles in a grip that turns the skin pale, then dark with the lack of blood flow. It’s a struggle to peel it away and put it into the waste bin, where it slithers into the papers and out of sight.

That came out of him. It’s his. The first thing he thinks is that Alice doesn’t love him anymore, a thought that doesn’t even phase him, oddly enough. Next is that he can’t let anyone know about this. He doesn’t want the pity, the dismissal from his job, the care baskets and condescending questions of his well-being. This is probably going to kill him, and he wants to die with dignity as opposed to in a hospital bed with a bag of artificial happiness draining into his bloodstream.

With those thoughts swimming in his conscience, he crosses his wrists behind his back and stares at the board.