Simon Keyes isn’t a simple man, by any means, but he is a person. Flesh and blood just like any other inmate around him, despite how much he would like to believe otherwise. The more untouchable he thinks himself, the more the other inmates fear and idolize him, which makes walking through the halls on his own just that much easier. But that is not the point.
The point is, he is just a person, whose skin goes pale from lack of sunlight, whose roots show no matter how many times he tries to dye his hair, and who is susceptible to bouts of frustration when, for the seventh time this month, his self-important ex-cellmate asks for an audience with him.
Simon thinks Blackquill is certainly lucky there’s about an inch and a half of bullet proof glass between them, otherwise he’d be on the other side of that bench wringing his fucking neck.
It’s been on-and-off with this annoying new habit of his. Apparently project “Rehabilitate Simon Keyes” was Blackquill’s new hobby, a fun little activity the reinstated prosecutor had picked up as a pass time, probably along with something like knitting, or birdwatching, or burning ants with a magnifying glass. Once the man had received his badge, found himself a fun, energetic family, and gotten himself into what had to be a new relationship--he wasn’t an idiot, the giant hickey on the man’s neck was a huge giveaway during their second meeting this month--he was all about picking Simon’s brain.
“It can be good for you, talking to someone,” Blackquill had said during their first meeting. “It doesn’t have to be through traditional means.”
“I’ve gone this long,” he’d said, looking innocent. Blackquill hadn’t budged, the spoilsport. “Perhaps, as I’ve stated many times, I’m just beyond help?”
“You’ve rejected every option thrown at you since my release, and made the poor woman in charge of our therapy before that have a nervous breakdown.”
“I didn’t do anything to her,” Simon had sighed, rolling his eyes and relaxing back into his chair. “It was her own damn fault for suddenly removing her wedding ring. She shouldn’t have made it so easy.” Truly, if she hadn’t wanted an early retirement, she shouldn’t have made her failing marriage so obvious. If anything, his small, teeny-tiny reading of the situation was a blessing. She was probably in Europe or Asia “finding herself” like any decent, middle-class divorcee.
Blackquill had given him a very dirty look. “You are not beyond help, you stubborn jackass. You are, in fact, actively avoiding it like a dark alley.”
Simon had snorted, and that was the conversation for that day, as he had begun to pick at his nails and whistle whenever the prosecutor began to speak. Simon Blackquill hated being talked over, but he more so hated it when it was done with such accuracy and deliberant exploitation of that knowledge.
The second visit, he hadn’t fared much better.
By the third, Simon had simply told the man, “Is it much more different than you rejecting whatever 'rehabilitation’ methods the good detective Fullbright had offered you?” The man’s face had grown darker with every word, and so to hammer it home, he'd spoken in the voice of Bobby Fullbright, saying, “Perhaps I’m waiting for you to die so I can fuck whoever is wearing your corpse.”
Blackquill had stood sharply at that, fire in his eyes, but Simon had barely flinched, instead smiling a thin smile as his barb did exactly what he had wanted it to do.
Blackquill had slammed his fist down on the table on the other side of the glass, the noise loud enough to startle the guard behind him into grabbing for his pistol. Simon could hear the slick sounding cli-clack of it behind him, and his grin only broadened.
“Upset, prosecutor Blackquill?”
The man only clenched his jaw and said through is teeth, “Come hell or highwater, you’re sharp tongue will dull, and you’ll have nothing left, you maniacal, twisted serpent.”
Simon clasped his hands together over her heart and cooed in his own voice. “That may be the sweetest thing you’ve ever said to me.”
“You’ll die,” Blackquill snapped, ignoring him, “without wind in your sails, without a blade in your belt, and with a heart black from misuse and indecision to heal. Is that what you want?”
Simon had shrugged, and gotten up to leave. He wouldn’t deign it with a response. Perhaps that was what he wanted. He is entitled to his own death, he supposes, and therefore the person he wishes to die as is a part of that. He would die here, and he was glad for it. It was a life he had behind these bars, an easy one of manipulation and slight fear-mongering. And if his past weighed him down with sleepless nights, shaking hands, and high walls, then he would sink under their weight. He had nothing to say to any of them, and nothing to regret.
After all, it had worked.
The fourth and most recent face-to-face meeting had been very brief; the prison guard had hardly let go of his arm and undone his cuffs before Blackquill, standing with a manila file in his hands stated, “A week from today, you will speak with someone regarding your incarceration. You have no say in the matter. If you reject our audience, we will simply come again until you see us. I have had enough of your charade.”
Simon had raised an eyebrow. “Is that all?”
He’d given Blackquill a once over, eyes bored, calling what he thought was his bluff at the time. “Then kindly fuck off. Write it on a postcard next time you find it in your schedule to bother me. I’m growing bored of you.”
“Good. I hope you perish from it, you unbelievable bastard.”
And that had been it, except it had not been a bluff. Blackquill had shown up a week later, and Simon had rejected the visit. And had done so again the following day, furious that the man had been serious. By the seventh visit, he had said yes, if only so he could somehow heave the visitor’s room chair at him through the window.
The walls of the visitors room in the detention center are a sunny version of slate gray, the morning’s light streaming in from the barred window on the right side of the cell. There was a slight breeze through it as another spring flourished on in the world that turned outside these walls. The room was cool, as it usually was, and on the other side of the glass, the dark stain that was Blackquill stood, arms crossed and defensive.
“Be still, my beating heart,” Simon intoned and the guard undid his handcuffs. “A piece of shit in a surcoat come once again to ruin my pleasant day.”
“Stuff it,” Simon barked. He nodded to the chair. “Sit down. We’ll begin shortly.”
He smirked, crossing his arms. “So demanding. You know, there is typically some foreplay before you get to boss m--”
Before he could finish that sentence, young woman steps through the door behind Blackquill, dressed bright enough to given Simon a migraine, and talking quickly. She was beaming as she scamped into the second chair usually reserved for paralegals. “Sorry, Simon,” she offers in a cheery tone, setting her bag down. “I wanted to make sure Widget was all charged and ready to go for today!”
The use of his first name is jarring, and he's about to ask who the hell this is, when Blackquill spoke up, taking the seat next to her.
“And here I thought you had simply gotten lost.”
“Puh-leez!” she grouses, elbowing him. She has an odd necklace around her neck that flashes a myriad of colors, but lands on green. Her face is a childish sort of pout. “I bet I come here more than you!”
“I lived here,” Blackquill deadpans, and the young woman blows a raspberry at him.
“You’re going to make Mr. Keyes think I’m incompetant or something! Jeez,” she huffs, the necklace briefly flashing from red to green again. And then she aims her smile at Simon himself, and he notices the pin on the lapel of her incredibly loud jacket. “Good morning, Mr. Keyes!” she greets in the same bright tone. “It’s nice to finally put a face to the name.”
He eyes her defense attorney badge with trepidation that melts into sheer curiosity with a hint of caution. Alright, Blackquill has piqued his interest. He takes a seat slowly. This is...odd. He watches this odd yellow girl for another minute, and thinks of turning around and asking to leave the room and return to his cell, but...well he really is rather curious. The device on her neck is obviously something reading her emotions, quick as they are to change. A human being who willingly wears her heart on her sleeve then, or, perhaps more accurately, around her neck. It should make it easy to defend himself from her questions, should she find herself looking too far over the edge. It’s a shame Blackquill thinks he won’t push a kid into the abyss if he must.
He pins Blackquill with a curious stare, hoping to get enough out of him that nothing is able to actually start. “An attorney?” he asks, leaning back into his chair as Simon leans forward with his elbow on the bench. “Isn’t it a tad late for that in my case, Blackquill?”
Blackquill jerks his thumb over his shoulder. “This is Miss Cykes. She specializes in analytical psychology.”
He doesn’t know what’s more impressive; the fact that he thinks Simon won’t send her on some mid-life crisis journey across the world--at, what, age nine?--or the fact that he’s willing offered Athena Cykes up for slaughter. He’s almost surprised really. The darling, golden child he spoke of very few times, but always with such reverence while incarcerated, and who, while she was in holding, his older sister could do nothing but blame.
He decided to start small. So far, she’d done nothing to him. Blackquill could regret it later. “Charming,” he said instead, because truly it was. “So you think I need a shrink now, hm?” They’d spoken about his help options in the past, and this had come up wanting by day two, but if he insisted...
Simon leans back in his chair, crossing his arms and glaring. “You more than anyone.”
Athena gives Blackquill a sidelong glare, and shakes her head, facing Simon head on now. “Don’t worry, Mr. Keyes,” she offers, holding her hands out, a placating gesture that annoys him. She was of the ilk that thought herself gentle, then. Capable of taming any monster. He’d dealt with that before. “I’m only here to help you.”
“I’m just trying to help you.” The memory comes to him, unbidden, and if he wasn’t so good at hiding it he would have flinched. For a moment, it is a very different set of hands turned out toward him. Calloused, and big, and warm, with knicks from knives and fingers that carried with them the scent of leather and smoke.
“I’m sure you are, sunshine,” he says, banishing the memory before it has a chance to take form as a lump in his throat. He watches her tap the side of her necklace, and it flashes blue as a small holographic screen pops up in front of her, a little wheel in the center of it spinning as the screen loads. When things start popping up, the first one he notices is a heart monitor, which is just slightly above a normal pace.
Ah. The clever shrew was a lie detector.
“This shouldn’t be an invasive process—just talk freely about whatever comes to mind,” Cykes starts, waving her gloved hand over the screen. A few tabs open, and she scrolls through one or two quickly. “We could start by discussing, for instance, your father.”
“A-hah,” he sing-songs, sitting back in his chair. Now that she’s shown him the game, it’s rather easy to dodge. Run circles around her until she grows bored and stops. That’s a shame. It’s hardly going to be much fun. “I see. You do understand, miss Cykes, that I’m not going to talk about that.” And he never will. Thank you, come again.
“Alright, then,” she pips, unperturbed, “how about your childhood in general?”
Oh, that’s funny. He grins languidly. “No.”
“Your…experiences at the orphanage?” she asks.
That’s even funnier. He gives her a derisive snort. “Nope.”
“Um, then maybe your arrest?” she hedges.
Abysmal. “Not happening.”
“Your…time at the circus?”
“Nothing to say about that.” Save for maybe he hopes he sees Galactica in hell. Would be fun to torment someone.
Cykes bites her lip in thought. It’s delightfully funny, watching Blackquill's shoulders tense in anger like a wind-up toy while his friend begins grasping at straws. They’re nearly at his ears, and his eyes have filled with distaste and something somber close behind. Cry him a river and drown in it, then.
The girl taps her screen, and her eyebrows knit. “Your childhood friend?”
His eyebrows raise just a fraction, and he can see his heartbeat on the screen speed up just a tad. “Knightley?” The name is out of his mouth before he can stop it, and it feels off, oddly shaped and awkward from neglect. What use did he have to speak of the dead, after all?
Cykes grins, and he’s almost dismayed to find that it isn’t the kind of grin one gets when the trap they’ve set catches the prey they set out for. It’s encouraging and sickeningly sweet. “Yes!” she tells him, enthusiastically. “Do you—do you have anything to say about him?”
He can feel his amusement from Cykes’ confusion draining, and though he’s relaxed his hands behind his head, he can feel his shoulders slump just a fraction lower than “at ease.” What doesn’t one say about Horace Knightley?
Well, he thinks bitterly, there’s really nothing about him that can’t be said with a middle finger, or a roll of the eyes. On a surface level, he was an arrogant man built like a workhorse, with the temper of an angered bull when it flared. Usually it ended in bruises for the opposition, and earned Horace a few shiners ringed around one of the idiot’s eyes. His attitude had also earned a bodycount. He was a fool who trusted easily when it came to Simon, who believe anything Simon sold him, and who was eager to please. Knightley was a man who looked at him with soft eyes and a grin that was always heavy with feeling, and who was vulnerable enough about his feelings that he was very easy to use. He was a man on the inside, who had connections to the fucking president of Zheng Fa. He was malleable. A partner in bed when he was too frustrated to think who provided a quick fuck and some head clearing. A fun piece of meat to drag along in front of Roland until she fell into a box-and-stick trap of her own making. He was a traitor, and an enemy. He was a bastard who took part in kidnapping him and nearly killing them both when they were kids. He was useful, until he wasn’t, and then he was dead.
That is the truth.
“I’m just trying to help you.”
Simon sighs and shuts his eyes. He’s had enough of this game now, and in the end it was bittersweet. He looks Miss Ckyes in the eye, and says, deadpan, “He was the worst lay of my life, and I’m glad he’s dead.”
Something delightful happens then. The blue screen that had been projecting his vitals, flashes an angry, warning red, and beeps in what sounds like an emergency shut down. The screen disappears back into her necklace, and the little orb turns a “power-down” kind of red that lets him know the doctor is officially out.
Cykes gasps. “Widget!” She takes the little device in her cupped hands hanging her head over it in what had to be mourning. “No!” she groans. Her eyebrows pinch in distress, and her frown is wholly upset at the sudden death of her little friend.
Simon Blackquill’s brow, however, is pinched in frustration, and he leans forward to smack his hand to his forehead and drag down his face with a groan. Good. Perhaps he would think twice about subjecting him to this again, and simply hook him up to a polygraph. At least then he can tear the needle off and whack the other with it.
“Can’t you take one thing seriously in your wretched life, you blackguard…” Blackquill is grumbling.
He ignores him, clapping his hands cheerfully. “Well, this has been fun!” he says, slipping easily into that bright and vapid persona of Simon Keyes, the Idiot. “Thank you, Miss Cykes, I feel like a whole new person already!”
Blackquill glares through the cracks of his fingers, and Simon stares innocently back as he calls out, “Guard!” The man stands to attention, looking wary. It’s always fun to see that; his influence at work. “I’ll be going back to my cell now.” He offers him an open smile, bright and falsely cheery, and delights in the cringe it earns him.
He offers a saccharine grin to Blackquill, and feels more like he’s baring his teeth in a snarl. “Truly, thank you, Blackquill,” he says, tilting his head and trying his hardest to look touched. “Now that I know the little lie detector is breakable, I can avoid it in the future.” He turns on his heel, and attempts an awkward, handcuffed wave over his shoulder as he’s walked forward, willing it to come off as nonchalant. He is somewhat successful, and the door shuts behind him.
As soon as it does, his demeanor mellows and dips lower and lower until it sours completely by the time he gets back to his cell. He can still feel Blackquill’s sunken eyes boring holes into his back, as if they could see through him, find the snag in his heart he was looking for, and yank him back into the room.
Well, good luck with that.
Simon lays on his cot, settling his arms behind his head and watching the ceiling, tracing the familiar cracks like constellations. In his chest, the memory of Horace Knighley burns like acid until it creeps like bile to the back of his throat. He grits his teeth until his ears ring, squeezes his eyes tight enough to give him a splitting headache.
“Hey,” Horace says, raising his hands slowly, watching Simon. His eyes are wide and cautions, and his mouth is parted in surprise. He’s near the mattress on the floor of Simon’s room at the Berry Big Circus, which Simon has hidden a switchblade under. And he is sure Horace is still armed with a pistol.
Simon is armed with a bat still raised above his head and two and a half completely sleepless nights. He’s five good steps away from knocking him the fuck out.
“Hey, it’s okay,” Horace tells him gently. “It’s just me.” He has his hands are up now, palms facing forward.. Simon hates everything about it.
“I’m not some wild animal, Knightley,” he hisses. “What the hell do you think you’re doing here?”
Horace lets out a little sigh, and has the decency to look sheepish. “Sorry. I thought I could surprise you.”
“With my coming back from Zheng Fa?”
Simon blinks. “You were gone?”
Horace flinches back a little at that, hands lowering a tad as he straightens. “I was gone for three weeks.”
Simon chances a look to the side to calculate. He and Horace had gotten drinks on the twenty eighth and it was twenty first of June now. About three weeks, then. “Huh.”
“Ouch,” Simon mocks in Horace’s voice. “Why did you break into my room?” He’d seen the small slip of paper he keeps as a silent alarm system on the floor as soon as he had walked in, and had grabbed the bat from behind the small bookshelf, not wasting any time. Horace had rounded the corner right then, and had nearly met God in the few seconds it took for him to duck and weave his way around Simon.
A part of him wishes he didn’t have those reflexes to save him.
Horace’s face goes rosy. “Like I said, I had hoped to surprise you. Thought you’d be excited to…”
“To?” Simon prompts, raising the bat higher. So help him, but the explanation better get good fast.
“To see me.” He shrugs. “Didn’t think my presence was that abysmal that you had to forget all about it.”
“Oh, poor baby,” Simon sneers. “That’s it? You broke into my room and gave me a heart attack to tell me you’re back in Los Angeles?”
Simon scoffs, not moving from his offensive position. “I could care less. What do you want?”
There’s a flash of anger in the man’s eyes now. “For fucks sake, you paranoid shit,” he grounds out. “I came to drop something off and to see if you wanted to go out for dinner. My fucking treat. Can you put the bat down?”
“Not yet.” He looks Horace up and down. He’s not showing any weapon outright, and he’s not reaching for anything. Simon can see the handle of his switchblade poking out from under his bed so he doesn’t have that on him. And there’s a window behind him. Closed. He hasn’t opened it at night since he’d gotten the room, but he may make an exception if he has to defend himself.
All in all, he seems to have the upper hand. He lowers his weapon slightly. “What were you dropping off?”
Horace’s shoulders untense a fraction, and he points toward the little kitchenette in the corner. On top of the stove is a small potted tree. “Figured you could use a little friend to keep you company while I’m away. If you ever decide to take note of when that is.”
Simon gives Horace a long look, searching for anything that could give him a sign that the pot if bugged, or rigged in some way to fuck him over. He finds nothing; just some dope who thought to bring him back a plant from some small country in Asia.
He lowers the bat fully, and offers a breathy laugh, leaning on it. “You know I’ll kill that, right?”
“Try not to,” Horace says dryly, but he’s grinning. “They’re pretty good for anxiety, I hear. Maintaining them is supposed to zen you out.”
“Zen me out?” Simon repeats, his voice quivering with a suppressed laugh. “It’s a tiny, living thing.”
“Hey,” Horace says, grinning and holding his hands up innocently. “I’m just trying to help you.”
Simon rolls his eyes, and leans the bat against the wall. “Well, aren’t you sweet.”
He turns on his side and presses the heels of his hands to the pounding in his skull.
This is the truth.
What he can say about Horace Knightley doesn’t matter. Horace was a huge guy with a temper that he never aimed fully at Simon. When he was a kid, it could have been called scrappy, but Simon only ever caught bits of it, snaps of anger when he poked the bear too hard. Horace frequently said the words, “I love you,” like they were as easy as breathing. He was a man who looked at him like he hung the moon, and whose hands felt rough but were so, so gentle when they soothed up his spine, or through is hair. He was someone with patient eyes that waited for him to calm down and that never did anything but trust in him. Horace Knightley was useful. He was used. He was dead.
Horace Knightley was his one regret.
Simon lets out a shaky breath, and tries to dig for the anger he felt boiling below his skin earlier, after he left Blackquill, after his jolly mood soured, but the wind has gone out of his sails, and he does nothing more than curl in on himself, and rest.
The next interview comes two days later when Simon is on laundry duty with a guard posted at the door. He had long since stopped having enemies behind bars--most of them either dead or released--but a little caution never hurt anyone. Not that he trusted the guard to stand a few feet away with a gun on her hip while his back was turned, but if she was going to shoot him, she’d have done it already.
He’s shoving the sheets into the dryer when the door to the room opens, and another guard whispers something to the one posted beside the entryway.
“Mr. Keyes,” she announces, “there is a Simon Blackquill here for an audience with you.”
“Simon Keyes isn’t here right now,” he grumbles, shutting the door and grabbing the laundry baskets he’s emptied to dump on the table behind him. “Please leave a message after the tone.”
“Mr. Keyes, will you receive him or not?” she snaps.
“Please hold,” he responds, voice robotically neutral as he dumps another basket of sheets into the washing machine. “We are transferring your call. P--”
“ Keyes,” the woman interrupts. He sends a glower her way, but she doesn’t so much as blink. “Do you want to talk to this guy, or what?”
For a moment, just the briefest of seconds, he thinks about how he would love for Blackquill to try something drastic, something that didn’t involve playing with a child and breaking her psychoanalytic toy. Something that would require them to be in the same room, he thinks, sadistically. See how he tries to piss him off when there is no glass between them. Fancy lie detectors and little shrinks are nothing then.
Blackquill wants something he’s not going to get. Simon’s rehabilitation hinges on feeling some remorse for his revenge. And he doesn’t. So if he’s going to foist another human lie detector on him today, they better be someone who works fast, mercilessly, and drags the shit out of him inch by agonizing inch once they find an in, otherwise he’s not budging. Better make him bleed and expose his heart, valves and all, else live with thinking he never had one to begin with.
Good luck, Blackquill, you nosey simpleton. Let the games being.
He presents his wrists to the guard as an answer, and rolls his eyes when she makes a show of cuffing him in annoyance.
Distantly, he wonders who he’ll get to break next. Perhaps, if he’s feeling truly brave to show his face after just two days, it will be Blackquill himself who conducts this meeting. He’s known Blackquill for the man’s entire incarceration--he has no gimmicks but his sword and his wit. Both are breakable, and easily so if you know where to hit.
He’s grinning by the time they reach the visitor’s room. He expects Blackquill to be waiting there the way he was every other time he’s come; standing tall with crossed arms and wearing a glare to match the rest of his dark demeanor. But today he is sitting, watching the door with serious, but not aggravated, eyes.
“Round two?” Simon asks over his shoulder as the guard undoes his restraints.
“Something like that,” the man answers with a roll of his eyes. “Sit.”
He stands behind the chair for just a moment, leaning on the back of it, and putting on a pout, an image of disappointment and faux hurt. “You’re so mean,” he whines. “Doesn’t justice say, ‘good morning’ anymore? Or ask how I’m doing? You truly have lost your humanity, Mr. Blackquill.”
The man looks up at him with a droll stare. Ah, right. It was easy to get under Blackquill’s skin by wielding his pain as a sword, not his fears and guilt. He was a shrink too, after all. Easier to press on past trauma for a reaction than to play on any feelings the fool had.
“Who better to tame a monster than another, inhuman monster?” Blackquill retorts. “Sit down, Keyes.”
He does, though reluctantly, and throws an arm over the back of his chair. He doesn’t see any sign of the bright miss Cykes in the room, so she’s either running late again, or Blackquill has found him a new victim. “Blackquill,” he says, no joking in his voice now, “I have a proposition for you.”
“Fuck you. You haven’t even heard it,” Simon snaps. “I’m trying to ask you to leave me the hell alone. Politely.”
“That’s a first. Request denied.” Blackquill looks up at him, and attempts to pin him with an icy glare. It does nothing more than fuel his own boiling frustrations. “We’re trying something else today.”
“Oh?” Simon snaps. “A different kind of lie detector? Or will you brainwash me into being ‘good’? There is nothing you can do to me in here that I haven’t faced and broken out there , so just try it.”
Blackquill snaps, “No one is aiming to torture you, you blackguard.”
“Then leave me to my life sentence. There is nothing either of us can gain from going around in circles. The game has already grown boring, Blackquill. Don’t let it grow stale.”
“It is not a game, you heathen,” Simon cuts him off to laugh at that, and Blackquill continues to argue, “This is about rehabilitation.”
“For who?” Simon snaps. “Certainly not for me.” He smooths his face out into something easier, and knowing. Smug. “Is it for you? To prove you’re some sort of decent human being under all that muck? Even though our shiny new court system dragged you out and hosed you off?” He can see Simon’s mouth press into a thinner line, and he grins. “Or perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. After all, you fell in love with the creacher who put you in this miserable place, the one that slaughtered your mentor. Could it be to wipe away that stain on your conscience?”
For a minute there is genuine rage and sorrow in Blackquills eyes, and he takes a deep and steadying breath. Maybe this will be over before it even starts.
“Is this really about me, Simon Blackquill?” he asks, and uses a voice that is his own, but tinged with the speaking patterns of the therapists they tried to foist upon him in the last near-decade. “Where does this stem from? Your need to save everyone? Or your twisted guilt that you fucked the guy you swore to kill?”
For a moment, neither of them speaks. Simon can feel the win of another day at the tips of his fingers, and his grin only broadens.
And then Blackquill sits forward and the feeling is lost as he says, “I have already confronted my ghosts. I know where I stand in my own consciousness. You do not.” Simon grits his teeth as the man continues. “This is going to be a bit different this time around.” Oh joy, something new to take apart as it tries to bisect him. Perhaps this will be a timed event, only a few moments to do his task before one of them is gutted alive. He’s always been a fan of the danger acts in the circus; this should be fun.
The man stands from his chair, and gestures toward the door, each movement slow and calculated. If nothing else, he’s at least gotten under Blackquill’s skin enough to make him work to calm down. “I’ve brought someone I think you ought to talk to.”
The door to the visitors room opens and Simon is surprised to see that the person who walks in is not Cykes, but rather a woman with a round face, and kind eyes. She’s young, maybe a few years younger than he is, and has her dark hair pulled back into a top-knot, which would be odd if she wasn’t also dressed in kimono and wooden sandals. Around her neck she wore a necklace with several large orbs surrounding a yellow curved stone. Her smile is soft as she sits and offers him a shy wave.
He crosses his arms and raises an eyebrow at he stares at this stranger. “And what,” he asks Blackquill without looking away from the newcomer, “pray tell, the fuck would I talk about with a spirit medium?” He’d seen medium or two in the paper once, and one, weirdly enough, at State versus Galactica, but his focus was usually in Zheng Fa, not Khura’in. If this was about his past, Blackquill had gotten it rather mixed up. They were two totally different cultures, two totally different political climates. It’s quite interesting; perhaps Simon hadn’t stuck his nose at deep into his case as he’d originally thought.
Blackquill crosses his arms as well. “Not with her.”
The woman speaks, then, and her words do not settle in his mind at first. “What he means, Mr. Keyes, is…well.” she gestures vaguely with her hand. “Do you know a man by the name of Horace Knightley?”
And then. Oh.
It hits him at once what Blackquills intentions are. He’s not meant to speak to a doctor, or a shrink, or an attorney. He’s meant do so something much harder, and speak to a victim of his. This is no longer an interrogation, or a therapy session. This a game he refuses to play, and Blackquill is using whatever underhanded technique he can to get at Simon.
He is out of his chair immediately, shoving himself away from the window and marching toward the exit. “Guard!” he shouts. “I’m done here.”
“No!” He can hear Blackquill’s fist slam onto the bench as he shouts after him. “Don’t you dare run again!”
Simon whirls on him. The time for masks is over, and real rage fills him. How dare this tragic hero decide what was best for him? Leave it to a man saved to think himself able to save others. Simon had not asked for this, for Blackquill to go anywhere near the pile of shit that was his life, and he had certainly not asked the man to look at the one tomb Simon had regret building and decide he needed to see the body inside one last time. He shouts, “I have nothing to say to that man, and you know it!” And faces Blackquill behind the glass.
“That’s a load of bull you haven’t convinced me of in all these years!” Blackquill shouts back, slamming his hands down onto the bench again and bringing himself in to glower at Simon, as if it would make him flinch. As if it ever had.
“I don’t give a shit! Talk to him yourself if you’re such an expert on my personal life!” Talk to him yourself, since you took the liberty of going gravedigging, you sonofabitch.
“No— you need to face your own responsibilities for once!”
Simon actually laughs at that. “What would you know of responsibility?!” Martyring himself for the sake of a child, distancing himself from everything including a family who only wanted him safe. Blackwquill had a responsibility to people while jailed, and had run from everything with tunnel vision when the legal system tossed him to the wolves. That he attempted to preach it now was absurd. Laughable. A fucking cosmic joke that someone with just as much damage as Simon Keyes would think to act as if he knew anything of the sort.
“I know enough not to run away from it with my tail between my legs,” Blackquill argues.
“Says the man who compulsively tries to fix my problems when he can’t even fix his own.”
Blackquill makes a sound that is the human equivalent of a growl, and leans in until his forehead nearly touches the glass. “Don’t try to derail, this is about you. Do you intend to simply let this fester until you die?”
“I do.” He does. There is no point in dragging this all to light now. It’s been sitting in darkness for so long, untouched, it’s begun to mold and wither away. He’d much rather let the memory and all possibility of pain shrivel into nothingness with Horace’s memory.
“Is that the kind of cowardice you inherited, or the kind you learned?”
Simon is leaning close to the glass, and he almost hisses a how dare you, you fuck , but it’s not worth the can of worms it could open. Whether his tragedy was hereditary or if he had built the stage he played on by his own hand, this conversation was over. “I’m warning you, Blackquill—stay out of this or I will—”
Next to them, there is an annoyed sigh, and a groan of, “Really, Simon…”
This is the final straw for Simon, or rather, very nearly. This woman has no right to sit here listening to them shout about the decision being made for him, let alone to say it in such a condescending and knowing tone. She knows fuck all about Simon, and he is about to tell her so in words that would break her to dust when he sees the woman in the chair. Or, rather she is in the chair, but...
“Nearly ten years, and you’re still like this?”
But so, it seems, is Horace.
Simon freezes. The anger in him hardens, cools, and dies out until all that is left behind is a heavy feeling of guilt and fear and just the barest hint of longing in his gut, weighing him down as he watches Horace level a look at him that says, what now, you shithead? A look that he was never supposed to see again.
“…I’ll leave you to it,” he hears Blackquill say, distantly, and there is a brief moment where he wants to tell the man not to leave. To beg him not to lock him in this room alone with his ghosts. This isn’t something he can do. Lying, cheating, outsmarting Blackquill in the visitors room, those were fun. Those were easy.
This? This was impossible.
He watches Horace, who looks exactly like he did the day he died, right down to the ridiculous hair, raise an eyebrow. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” he comments, his voice still rough and deep. The joke and the sound touch something in his chest, and he can feel his knees grow weak.
God above, there he is.
“You might want to sit down.”
There is a part of him that doesn’t make it passed the lump in his throat. A part of him that remembers having a nightmare so bad he woke screaming, something he tries not to do even now. He had woken screaming so badly Horace had checked him for external injuries. This part of him that he tries to move passed is the part of him that really had wanted to lean into Horace that night, to curl into his arms and stay there, past be damned. The part of him that had followed the man’s even breathing and had taken solace from his hands running through his hair.
It is the part of him that misses this man terribly. The part of him that regrets Horace’s passing.
Simon sits heavily, still staring at him with wide eyes. He can feel his pulse quicken, and suddenly, he is angry. Hurt, and pissed, and bitter, and so fucking angry, though where it came from and where it was to be directed, he doesn’t know. He crosses his arms, and averts his eyes, trying to ignore the way that stings, just a bit.
“Well?” asks Horace, conversationally. “Aren’t you going to say anything?”
Simon grits his teeth, and spits out a hissed, “No.”
He can hear the scowl in the other voice, and hates that he knows what is sounds like. “That’s a bit rude,” Horace grumbles. “I didn’t get dragged to the corporeal world just to watch you mope.”
Simon rolls his eyes, watching the barred window in the room. “No, I mean there’s nothing I can say.” He grins, and doesn’t feel an ounce of it. “What do you say to someone you got killed?”
“‘I’m sorry’ would be a nice start,” Horace offers, his tone gently sardonic. It’s barely biting, and that leaves invisible wounds, lacerations across his own chest that have him digging his nails into the flesh of his forearm.
He responds in the same tone. Mocking, conversational, but without as much tact. “I thought you’d had enough of my lies.”
Out of the corner of his eye he can see Horace grimace. “A lifetime of them, one could say.”
Simon says nothing, but his ears are ringing from how hard he is clenching his jaw, and his stomach plummets. He wants to say something sarcastic and biting. Something like, Did you really come back from the afterlife to make jokes about your death, knowing each one is going to hit me like a freight train? He wants to accuse Horace of torture for this. He wants to get up and march out of this room, and demand the guards put a restraining order on prosecutor Blackquill so he never has to see him again, never has to be subject to this again.
But his legs are locked in place, and his voice is stuck in his throat, and the image of Horace’s corpse swinging from the well grate in the prison yard fills him with lead. No matter what his decision was, Horace was never something he could run from.
Horace is picking at his nails, and at the sleeve of the purple kimono he’s wearing. He looks up at Simon a few times, but Simon can’t look back at him. Finally, he speaks again, and his words are curious and mock-offended. “Worst lay of your life? Really?”
Simon stiffens. “You heard that?”
“I hear a lot of things you say, Simon,” the man answers in an even tone. The implications behind those words weighs on Simon’s shoulders, and for a moment, his chest aches so profoundly he loses his breath. “For some reason, I keep hanging around.”
So even in death, he still couldn’t get rid of this fucker. This stupid man who put too much stock into watching the fake in front of him and not enough in arming his back from being stabbed by the real thing. He stuck around, now, for what? Some vindication that Simon suffered as much he had?
But no, Horace wasn’t--isn’t?-- the type of person to revel in Simon’s suffering. He’d have left him hanging the first moment Simon had gotten mean and drunk with him. Horace stuck for a reason, and it wasn’t...it was somehow worse, because it wasn’t malevolent in nature. It wasn’t even a nice sentiment. That Horace loved him even in death was beyond horrible.
Simon is still watching the window, still aggravated and moving slowly into the realm of self-loathing when he hears Horace ask, “Did you ever even like me?” His voice carried a forced casualness to it, but it’s a translucent sheet attempting to cover the curiosity and pleading sadness underlying.
He thinks to say something crueler, but he only shuts his eyes and says, loud and final, “No. I didn’t.”
The answer is too complicated. They’re both better off with a no.
But unlike in life, Horace does not take his answer at face value. “Then why can’t you look me in the eye when you say that?”
“Because I don’t want to look at you.”
“You don’t want to look at much these days, do you?”
Simon’s blunt nails have pierced his skin, and he draws them out of his forearms carefully. “There’s really not much to look at.”
Horace snorts. “I can list off a few things.” When Simon says nothing, he continues. “Is it that hard for you to admit that you made a mistake?”
He knows what Horace is talking about, and decides to ignore it. He refuses to make this interrogation easy. So he goes instead for the mistake that was, in comparison to the one sitting on the other side of the glass, incredibly small. “It was more of an oversight if you ask me, but fine, I could have washed the balloon basket more thoroughly.” He waves his hand through the air as if clearing away the smoke of his failures. “How was I supposed to know that damned pollen left traces?”
Horace huffs, clearly annoyed. “That’s not what I meant.”
Of course it’s not. He feigns innocence. Horace has played this game enough times, so he should know he’s going to have to work a little harder to peak behind Simon’s walls. He raises an eyebrow, but doesn’t chance the sidelong glance he knows will complete the game. “Then what?”
“You’re staring at it in the face!” So to speak; he would go this entire meeting not looking Horace in the eyes if he could help it, though he is starting to think that it may not be possible. Maybe it will annoy him enough to make him leave before that happens.
Simon smirks, and tilts his head like he’s recalling a bitter memory. In a way, he is. “Well,” he starts, “the sex was moderately subpar, but I wouldn’t call you a mistake.”
“Jesus Christ,” Horace grounds out. “Are you seriously never going to address the issue?”
No. Fuck off. You don’t get to have a face and a voice and a brain and sit there like you’re alive anymore, you bastard. You’re supposed to be forgotten. Simon barks a cold laugh. “There is nothing to address!” He waves his hand again, dismissive, and tries to keep the hysteria out of his voice. “I didn’t make a mistake in this! Everything was orchestrated perfectly, every detail planned and calculated!” And that was the rub, wasn’t it? Simon Keyes doesn’t do mistakes because he’s smarter than that. He can best his way out of the claws of his enemies, and survived those behind bars by befriending an assassin. He does not trip over his plans or his words, and each are precise blows. It would be different if the murder of Horace Knightley had happened without his say so. If it had been a casualty of his plan, perhaps it would be different. But it hadn’t been. “I do not make mistakes!” He nearly turns toward Horace then, and shuts his eyes as he shouts this.
Horace was supposed to die. It was not a mistake.
And yet the dead man is awfully relentless. “You don’t want to call killing your best fucking friend a mistake?!” he shouts, suddenly angry, and Simon’s own temper flares.
He stands facing Horace with acid on his tongue and emptiness in his chest. “No!” he shouts back, and means it with every cell of his body. He had visited Horace that day with the intention of Roland finding the chisel. Horace was supposed to die like a dog, a revenge plot that only soured when he realized it was not so much revenge but each of them ending up exactly like their fathers. It wasn’t a mistake, but it was a horrible fucking oversight. He did not have all the facts, and so nothing could be done. So Simon slams the palms of his hands onto the bench and nearly screams in a voice that is chipped and cracking, “Not when there’s fucking nothing I can do to fix it!”
He meets Horace’s dark eyes, and they are weighed with such sorrow and hurt that he ducks his head, making a noise in the back of his throat that sounds suspiciously like a sob, and his legs nearly buckle. He isn’t sure if he’s started crying, but breathing is harder after seeing that look on the other’s face, after dredging up the fact that there is nothing in the world that can bring Horace Knightley back to life. Not a mistake, but a regret nonetheless.
Simon wraps his arms around his middle and looks away again, this time at the ground. There is nothing here for him in this room. Anything he could offer is empty. The man is dead. What would an apology do?
What good would an I love you be, when evidence to the contrary was sitting in front of them?
“Was I really that bad in bed?”
Simon looks up sharply, surprised and confused. “Why do you want to know?” he sniffs, and damn him, he wasn’t supposed to be the one to break. He looks away again, hiding behind his hair as he swipes at his eyes as discreetly as he can.
Horace waits for Simon to look up at him again, and when he does, the look he gives him is...heartbreaking. It’s the same acute sorrow, but warmth and love and worry also reside in them, and the tightness in Simon’s throat burns. He looks away from Simon and sighs, shutting his eyes like the words burn his throat. “Because you must truly have hated yourself to keep coming back for something you didn’t like.” He sounds like the notion that Simon would ever come back to something he hated guts him.
He thinks about lying anyway. He thinks about saying something that would hurt him, to keep him at arm’s length, but each one gets stuck on this tongue, sticks to the roof of his mouth and behind his teeth. He sighs and turns his head, placing his chin in the palm of his hand, as if he’s trying to stop the truth flying out the way his tongue and teeth and lips stopped each vicious and distancing lie. “...no.” It’s a defeated sigh. “You weren’t.”
He can hear the soft relieved smile in Horace’s answering huff of laughter. There is no vanity in it either--when he looks up, he can see that there is only relief that Simon hadn’t hated himself enough to think he deserved anything less than the world.
There is a part deep inside that thinks right now, as he understands it, he may have already had it.
He tries for a tired smile, but it probably comes off bitter. “I admit, the first time was pretty bad -
Horace laughs at that. “Yeah, I did not get the blood out of those sheets.”
“- but I think it still was the best one I ever had.” He slowly unfurls his arms from around his side, and instead weaves his fingers in his lap. Hearing him laugh at the memory doesn’t tear him apart like he had assumed it would, so he assumes a posture that is no longer defensive. He picks at the skin of his finger, nervous anyway at the vulnerability he’s allowing here. He doesn’t want this, want any of it, but perhaps it is owed. The man had died.
Horace has a smile in his voice, though he sounds more incredulous than anything else. “Seriously?” he asks. “Even though I split a lip and you nearly got a concussion?”
Simon can’t help but snort at the memory.
His fingers dig into Horace’s back as Horace curls his fingers inside him. He jolts, letting out a sharp cry that he tries to quiet by biting down onto the man’s neck. Fuck he was good, he was so fucking good, this better be worth letting go for just an instant--
“Fuck,” Horace breathes into his neck, sucking a bruise into it. Simon keens, his back arching, he eyes nearly shutting. “God, Simon--”
He pumps his fingers twice, hitting his prostate both times, Simon arching upward with a broken gasp. “Ah--are you going to j--ahh! Fuck, Knightley, come on, either do something with your dick or--” he cuts himself off, sucking air in through his teeth and digging his nails into Horace’s back when the man nips at his neck and twitches his hips, his dick pressing between Simon’s hip and his own achingly hard cock. He’s everywhere and it’s overwhelming in the best possible way.
“Relax,” Horace murmurs, mouthing at his ear. “Let me just…” he trails off and Simon’s eyes open to slits just in time to catch Horace’s hand disappear into the bedside table drawer.
There is a certain level of paranoia that had come with agreeing to sleep with Horace, and he’s surprised by how easily he almost forgot it was there. His brain supplies that perhaps that was the whole point of getting him into Horace’s bed. He didn’t really know Knightley anymore, after all, and he had no inkling into what the man may know about him. For all he knew, there was a gun or a knife ready and waiting for him, and Horace was on the side of the fake president he protected. Of course, killing Simon would truly be protecting him, wouldn’t it? Fear grips him suddenly, and without thinking about anything other than the words escape and run , he rears back and slams his head into Horace’s mouth.
Teeth collide with his skin, and pain blooms along his skull. Horace cries out in muffled agony, pulls back, and lands in a heap. Thankfully, his fingers were out of Simon, but his arm was still tight around his middle, so when Horace goes down, Simon goes with him, cracking his head on the corner of the bedside table on the way.
He doesn’t pass out, but his head is aching badly. He scrambles off of Horace, trying to disentangle himself from the sheets.
He feels Horace’s hand grip his shoulder and his first thought is to elbow him and grab his clothes, and to get to the elevator before the bigger man can catch him, but when he turns around to aim, he can see Horace staring at him with wide, worried eyes, his lip split and oozing blood.
“Oh my god!” he’s saying, and his hands are on Simon’s neck and face, ghosting over the forming bump on his head. He flinches with a hiss. “Sorry!” Horace winces. “That’s not--Jesus Christ, Simon, I--fuck, okay, first, how many fingers am I holding up?”
He’s holding up three, but Simon’s brows knit together, and he pulls back, shoulders hitting the cool metal of the bed frame. “What?”
“How many fingers am I holding up?” He says this slower, and his eyes grow more panicked.
“What?” Simon tries again. “Why? What the hell are you doing?”
Horace groans. “Okay, get dressed, if you can’t answer, you might have a--”
“Three,” he snaps. “What the fuck?”
“Oh thank god,” Horace breathes. “I’m trying to make sure you don’t have a concussion.”
“Well, I don’t,” snaps Simon, pressing himself further back.
Horace sighs and sits back. “Okay then. I’ll take your word for it.” He bites his lip, and then winces, sucking in a pained breath. “What scared you?” he asks. “The nightstand thing?”
He hadn’t done anything save for headbutt the bastard, and yet the man had done nothing but gain a bloody lip and ask if Simon was okay. Which was weird in and of itself. And how had he picked up on...that? He made it a point in his life never to scream if he could help it, and to never show when exactly he started fearing the person in front of him. So long as the other party thought they were trusted, the more time it took for them to look closely at Simon.
So if Horace was trying to kill him, he was either brilliant, or extremely bad at it.
“What makes you think I’m afraid?” he asks, wincing when he raises an eyebrow too high.
Horace winces in sympathy. “Because I stuck my hand out of your line of sight to grab the lube.” He shrugs. “You always seem to get...nervous when you can’t see my hands. Or anyone’s. I extrapolated from that.”
For several minutes, neither of them speak. Horace watches him with careful and kind eyes, and swipes at his lower lip every so often with a look of mild pain.
“Sorry about that,” Simon says eventually, his voice wary.
“Sorry for scaring you into doing it,” Horace says. His voice is warm, kind, and forgiving.
Simon watches him for a moment longer, and understands one thing above all else in that moment, and the thought twists something vital inside him.
The memory is raw, salt in the open wound that was their...whatever it was. ‘Relationship’ required an element of trust. So did ‘partnership.’ “It felt... more genuine, I guess, than any other time,” he starts, looking at his hands. The next words will be hard to say, but he chokes them out slowly, speaking with a hoarse voice. “I never looked at anyone else with the same breathless revelation that I did you that night. It was like an epiphany.”
He looks up to meet Horace’s eyes again, and the man is watching him with a little shock and far too much love than he could ever deserve. “For the first, and only, time in my life, I felt like someone could actually like me.” He shuts his eyes, and remembers the feeling of calloused hands skimming across his cheeks. Remembers how slow they moved after that, and how he had forgotten at one point that Horace’s lip was split and had bitten down. How Horace had laughed instead, somehow, at the grossed out expression he’d worn when he tasted salt and copper on his tongue and it wasn’t his own blood. How after a moment’s hesitation, Simon had lost himself in the feeling of spent energy and adrenalin and ecstasy, and laughed along. “I think... I think I fell in love with you a little then.”
Horace leans in on the table, and gives him a sad smile, one that is filled with love that is far too late to matter. It shatters him. “A little?”
“A lot.” His voice is wrecked, and the words ache, even in the near whisper in which they are delivered. “Which is why I hated myself so much.”
They fall quiet for a moment, letting that truth settle like a layer of dust over the both of them. It was useless now, and they both knew it. This was like speaking to a tombstone.
Horace lets out a long breath, and says, “You hated yourself for falling in love?”
He looks back to his hands, and picks at the skin around his thumb. The lie is no, of course not, how could he hate it? But there isn’t a point to lying anymore, not with Horace. The truth is...it’s complicated. When he says so out loud, Horace scoffs.
“You’re going to lie to me, aren’t you?” Horace asks. His voice is bitter now, and Simon scowls. Did he have to ruin everything, the bastard?
“I wasn’t planning on it,” he grumbles. “I wasn’t going to answer.”
“The whole point of this is to talk, Keyes,” Horace says in a way that is patronizing and slow and just a bit aggravated.
Simon’s gut twists, and he bites the tip of his tongue to keep the answer from tripping off of it. The truth, when he faces it head on, is complicated. He had fallen for Horace that night. Each touch, each whisper of a laugh, each panting groan of the man above him had made him forget...everything. There was no false president, no Roland, no Debeste and his bloodhounds after a kid who had seen too much. There was just the feeling of building closer and closer to orgasm, the heaviness of Horace’s body, the weird sense of security while each of his arms were braced by Simon’s head as he drove into him. But all of that was so subtle, he had only felt and understood it full in the retrospective moments of post-coital drowsiness that came after, and that had been dreamlike and easily forgotten. It had been brief; a fleeting thought that made him sick to his stomach.
Horace had still kidnapped him, had still listened to his begging for hours until he’d lost his voice from the stinging cold. He had still nearly killed them both because he had been cowardly. He had still worked for the president of Zheng Fa. He wasn’t to be trusted at all, let alone loved. It had boiled down to wanting something he would never have, so long as he had to hide. He had wanted some place safe, and idiot Simon had found a place where he fit quite nicely. Between the legs of a foreign president’s fucking guard dog.
So while there were moments where the truth of the matter found the spotlight, it was mostly kept in the dark. Simon found better use in exploiting Knightley’s feelings to move him across the chessboard, rather than exploring them and keeping him close.
Perhaps it isn’t so much complicated as needlessly cruel.
Either way, it’s not something he wants to talk about, and thinking on it has only soured the mood.
As the silence stretches, Horace’s face melts into something painfully neutral, allowing Simon to omit his feelings on the matter of falling in love. He hates him for that look. Eyes distant and knowing, mouth turned down into something most would see as neutral contemplation, but was really gentle disapproval that was actually just a cover for general festering anger.
Simon isn’t shocked that the dead don’t change, but seeing that familiar look knots his stomach, and he watches the window again, feeling shame and guilt curl in his gut.
“Fine,” Horace says, evenly. “Don’t talk about it.”
Simon grits his teeth. He had said what he had wanted to. Told Horace the truth, or part of it. The part that he would want to hear.
Simon isn’t about to say I loved you, but using you was much easier.
Horace lets the silence take over the small, bright room, and birdsong nearby fills the quiet seconds where neither of them particularly care to speak to the other. When Horaces speaks again, it’s a mundane subject. “Pretty harsh, what happened to your old man.”
Oh, this game he’s good at. Good at faking the barest hint of mourning Gustavia, pretending to give the smallest scraping of a shit. Oh no, officer, what do you mean he sharpened a spoon and killed himself? How awful. I’m sorry to see him go, yada, yada, yada, boohoo, oh-so upsetting. It was easy to play the sad and tragic son here, the easiest role he’d ever staged in prison. And they could never trace it back to him. “It’s so very tragic, really - suicides are never pretty, let alone like that.”
“Cut the bullshit, Simon,” Horace snaps with a roll of his eyes. “It had your handprint all over it.”
Simon rolls his eyes right back. What of it? “And?” he snaps, feeling only vaguely bad that they were right back to arguing. It wasn’t like it was abnormal, but arguing with someone in Horace’s position--namely, dead--soured the normal rush winning the argument gave him. Still, it isn’t like Horace has any moral high-ground here; he had killed a man simply for a promotion. “Are you going to tell me what I did was monstrous and wrong?” he mocks, mostly because it would be awfully bold of him. Would he then tell Simon that prison was supposed to be reformative, and educational? Like an adult time-out?
He’s ready to shove him away again. If Horace is here and is using his time to impart some kind of stale, half-hearted wisdom and attempt at telling him he should feel bad and reintegrate himself into society, he can fuck off back to hell, or wherever it is he came from.
But Horace just gives his venom a disinterested snort. “Oh, no,” he amends, “he deserved that. It was kinda clever of you, really. Some of your finest work.”
Simon pauses. “...hm.”
His arms are around his middle again, and he tightens them in defense, because Horace has something in his voice that Simon remembers meaning he’s on his way to making a point. And with the way the conversation has gone thus far, he isn’t sure he can figure out exactly what it is. It’s hard to stay a step ahead of him now. It’s been nearly a decade, after all; he’s out of practice.
The thought makes him ache, so instead he refocuses on the complement. Almost laughs at the absurdity that being congratulated on killing your father can be considered as such. He smiles a cock-sure grin that he doesn’t feel, his head starting to feel like it’s barely above water, like he’s stepping off a reef and into the open ocean by speaking. “Thank you.”
Horace nods, and then shrugs. The look in his eyes is bitter. “Of course, it could have used a bit of direct action.” His eyes trail over his robed shoulder and he shrugs again, this time waving a hand. “Maybe a handyman on the outside…”
Simon latches on to the one feeling he knows he can put toward good use. Boiling anger that he can direct like a whip at Horace. Horace was always trying to pull something out of him when he thought he could get away with it, and it had never worked. Had always tried to wiggle his way into Simon’s problems, until he became another one of them.
So he glares, annoyed, and spits, “Are you saying you could have done it better?” The dead are already dead, but that doesn’t mean Horace has time to beat around the bush. If he has something he wants to say, he better fucking say it.
And he does. “No. I’m saying you and I would have made one hell of a team.”
It would have burned less if he’d held a lighter to his skin.
“What do you fucking want from me?” he asks evenly. He tries to keep his face neutral now, and all traces of anger in his eyes. He wants to ask, Since when did I ever ask for your fucking help? Wants to tell him, I never wanted to be a team. I work perfectly fine on my own. Wants to dismiss him by saying, Just because you loved me doesn’t mean you had an invitation to become the Bonnie to my Clyde, you presumptuous prick. But none of that makes it out.
“A reaction.” Of course he does.
“What kind?” He’s not getting one.
“Any kind,” Horace says desperately. “Any sign at all that you’re still a human being underneath all that bullshit.” He’s sitting straighter now, and spreading his arms, gesturing to Simon. “When was the last time you cried?” His voice is rising in volume and accusatory. “Or felt anything genuine?”
“Since when do you care about my fucking feelings?” Simon snarls his retort.
“Since you apparently don’t,” Horace shoots back, and suddenly he’s on his feet. “Do you even know what you’re feeling?”
Simon opens his mouth to tell him to get the fuck out, to tell him he’s feeling pretty over this conversation, and that wow Horace, this has been so nice, get the fuck out of here and don’t come back and pretend to think you have a better outlook on life after ten years of being dead.
But Horace silences him with a glare as soon as he opens his mouth, and growls, “And I don’t mean right now, I mean all of the shit that still keeps you up at night. Have you stopped to think about any of that for one second in these past years?”
Simon scoffs. “I don’t see how that’s relevant to anything.”
“Mm. Didn’t think so.”
He shuts his eyes and takes a deep breath, tilting his head and looking like he wants to hit someone. But a moment later his eyes open and they hold in them an empty sort of anger that comes with...with giving up.
There is a stretch of silence that quels Simon’s own anger, because he is suddenly acutely aware that he is running out of time to speak to Horace. Part of him is overjoyed to have this nosey son of a bitch gone. Thank god. Run away, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
The other part is struck with something cold and hollow, and registers the back of his mind as “loneliness.”
“Let’s talk again when you’ve found that out, because right now this is going fucking nowhere,” Horace grumbles. He crosses his arms and heads toward the door.
Simon has seen Horace Knightley walk away from him many times. To wash up after sex, to get ready for work in the morning. To make them breakfast. To go do something for Simon because he told him to. He had always watched with cruel, self-assured amusement, knowing that Horace would always come back to him. His smile was the man’s dog whistle. The sex, his training school. He had him wrapped around his finger in all of the worst ways, in all of the ways that could destroy a man. Because Horace would always come when called.
Seeing him from behind now fills him with raw fear that dances around his spine and stomach and grips him by the throat. “...you’ll want to do this again?” he asks before Horace can wretch the door open.
He needs to know if he’ll see him again. Badly.
Because suddenly he can feel the emptiness of his cell from here, can feel the vastness of a future he built for himself where the only evidence Horace ever existed is a grave no one visits.
Horace stops, but doesn’t turn around. “That depends on how willing you are to sort your shit out.”
Simon bristles, but it’s tinged with hysteria and tingling remnants of anger. He’s putting it on Simon then. If Horace walks away now, he is never coming back, and he’s going to make it Simons fault.
Fine. He hopes Horace suffers in his own solitude then. “You can’t walk in here and pretend like you’re meant to fix me.”
“Believe me, Simon,” Horace says, and it’s angry and hurt and bitter, and it feels like steel wool grating against his stomach to hear. “I know I’m no fucking doctor. I’m not here to make you see the light, or change, or be anyone else. I’m not here to cure you, asshole. I’m here, borrowing this body, because I…”
He doesn’t turn around, and he can hear the click of his teeth as he closes them around the words.
“Say it,” Simon dares him. “Say it, Horace, you fucking coward. Say it and walk way, like you’re ripping off a bandaid. Walk the fuck out of here feeling like a bigger man. Say it , you fuck.”
Horace spins on his heel, enraged. “You piece of shit ,” he snarls. “This is exactly what I’m talking about.”
“Say it,” Simon provokes. He wants to hear it, wants to hear him say that four-letter word before he turns back into a spirit medium and calls it a day. If he’s leaving, Simon wants it to hurt. “You complete and utter bastard, say it and run! I fucking dare you!”
“You haven’t fucking changed a bit. You still think I give a shit what you think about how I feel?”
“I never gave a shit about it,” he snarls. I just loved you. I didn’t ask for you to love me back. This is your fault. Own up to it, and get the fuck away from me. Stay dead. Let me rot in here and leave me in fucking pieces.
“Then fuck off!” Horace shouts.
“Coward!” Simon goads. He hates himself, but he wants to hear this as a goodbye. Want to feel it like a shiv to his side, wants to bleed out from this wound so that maybe he can stop being haunted for understanding the feeling of falling in love too late.
“If I’m running, it’s because you ran first.”
“And you’ve always followed after, haven’t you?”
“A loyal pet to the end, always following, doing what he’s told. Say it and get out of my face.”
“Fuck you, Simon, god damn it--”
“Do it, you’ve never been able to say no--”
“I fucking hate you, I hate when you do this, act like you know fucking everything, you scared, evil son of a bitch--”
“Then say it and leave! Take your shit feelings and get the fuck o--”
“Fine!” Horace explodes, voice breaking. “Fine! I love you! I love you , Simon, and god knows why. It doesn’t stop with your cruelty, or your mouth, or anything you do to yourself, or anything you’ve done to me. I love you. I loved you when we were six and trapped in that car and I could only think I killed us both. I loved you when you packed your shit and left with a bloody nose and lip and I thought it was a nightmare. For twelve years after that I loved you, right until I stopped feeling the knife go through my throat. And then I loved you after that. I love you , Simon. Is that what you fucking wanted?”
It hurts badly to know that it hasn’t changed, and it hurts to know that in their last moments together as they scream at each other that Horace with die in front of him again and still, still love him.
Simon feels like he’s drowning, but he glares at Horace, who glares right back, seething. His eyes are wet and furious and agonized.
“There,” Simon says, and his voice is even despite the shattered feeling in his chest, like someone had punched a hole through it. “Now get out. Don’t come back.”
Horace stares at him for a long time looking shocked. “Do you understand what you do to people?”
“Seduce them, read them, use them, kill them,” Simon ticks off. “Did I miss anything?”
“You know,” Horace continues, ignoring the bait, “it wasn’t even the death that hurt that bad.” He looks at Simon with something now that can be read as pity. Pity and hurt and love, and it makes his skin crawl. He’s not sure which one of them he wants to disappear more. “I could have expected something like that from you. What you did was much worse.”
Hysteria building again, he scoffs. “What was that?”
“You didn’t trust me, you stupid fuck,” Horace snaps. “Everything else I could have forgiven--the assassination, the conspiring, being used as a scapegoat for Roland’s paranoia--all of that I could’ve understood if you’d only told me about it. But you never did. You never let me in to help you with this shitstorm you had to deal with. You never told me you were on the run from the law and my goddamn employer. I could’ve been there for you to keep you safe, the only person you—”
Contrary to what he would have the world believe, there is a breaking point to Simon Keyes that shoves him forward and off the deep end. When he was twelve, it was the barest beginings of physical torture at the orphanage that spurred him to run and seek revenge. At twenty four, it was knowing his plan wasn’t fool-proof.
At thirty three, here in the precinct, it’s Horace Knightley, dead as a doornail, summoned back to life, and telling him he would have been there for Simon, had he the chance to be. “Oh, shut the fuck up!” Simon yells, throwing his arms up. Fury, guilt, longing, hatred, fear, desperation, and the barest hints of love curl under his heart like a sick and dying animal and burn him from the inside. “You couldn’t have protected me from shit! You don’t know what I went through!”
“No, I don’t!” Horace yells right back, voice like a shattered stained glass window. “Because you never said anything! You didn’t just kill me, you goddamn asshole, you broke my heart!”
“Then you shouldn’t have let me!” Simon hurls this at him and he can feel his face crumble like walls of wet sand. He can feel the very foundations of the remaining walls he’s been trying to use as cover around everything fall away into dust. It’s like being drowned by the tide in a storm, no knowing which way is up. He hates it. “You should have walked away, and saved yourself the trouble of trying to sift through everything, like anything I ever let you believe about me was genuine.”
Horace shakes his head, incredulous. “You assume that I didn’t know about your lying.”
“Then why didn’t you say anything?”
Horace looks away. “I figured you needed it to protect yourself from something - even though I was right there.” He rubs a hand across his eyes, and when it comes away, they’re rimmed red. “God knows it never helped when I tried to convince you that you could tell me anything.”
He pauses, and though the anger is still there, once again it’s aimless. He doesn’t know where to hurl it, doesn’t know what to do with it. He looks away, too. “You wouldn’t have wanted to hear this.”
Simon hears Horace give a broken bark of laughter. It is the unhappiest sound in the world, and it rips at his tattered mind. Through the holes it leaves behind, guilt filters in. “About your murder plan?” Another sad laugh. “Please, Simon. I would have helped.”
“Of course,” the man tells him in a voice that is pleading and lonely and desperate. Simon wishes he knew what for, wishes he could fix it. “I told you time and time again that I loved you. Why would you ever assume it didn’t include the unsavoury bits?”
He opens his mouth, but a choked noise comes out as a response. His eyes are wide, and what is left of his breaking heart is sinking. “But I--” he tries, and shakes his head in disbelief. “I never said anything like that to you.” He had never let Horace in on any scheming other than the fake assassination. He had never let him see each plan, each weapon, each carefully crafted mask he’d had for every occasion. He was careful about it, because he had to be. How had Horace seen him?
Because he’d been looking.
When Simon looks back at Horace, the man is facing him again with the same pity he had before. Only...it isn’t pity. If he had ever pitied Simon, he would have tried to sell him on rehabilitation, and a proper psychology session. He wouldn’t have risen to the bait, to his taunts, but rather tutted and moved on, until his temper had smothered itself out. This wasn’t pity he was seeing; it was mourning. Mourning every question he didn’t ask, every flinch and reflex he let slide. Mourning every missed touch, every missed opportunity to...change it all. Simon knows this look well, but only by proxy to feeling; it’s in the waking moments after he recalls memories of Horace holding his face and kissing him breathless.
“You didn’t need to,” Horace tells him softly, sadly. “I know you better than anyone else. I can tell when something’s not right.”
Simon stares at him, and then shuts his eyes. He can feel what must be years of untold feelings at the back of his mouth like bile, but when he opens his mouth, he only whispers, “Please sit down. I…” He doesn’t know what to say. I’m sorry? No. I love you? No. I wish you were alive, and I had left you alone. I wish I hadn’t happened to you, but you believed me so easily? There’s nothing he can say to keep him there, and he doesn’t know how to apologise without it feeling like he’s swallowed acid. Without it feeling so disingenuous that it twists itself into the shape of a lie the moment it leaves his lips. He leaves his sentence open, and takes a seat in his own chair.
He hears, rather than sees, Horace sit again, after some hesitation.
Simon swallows. He doesn’t know what to say, but he has to start somewhere. “We aren’t six,” is what he says, and he wishes he could sew his mouth shut and never speak again.
Horace huffs a sigh, agitated. “Alright,” he grounds out, “I’ll bite. Where the hell did that come from?”
He bites his lip, and waits for his brain to sift through lie after lie until he can present a coherent truth. “That was the last time you knew me.” He feels like shit, but it’s the truth. “I mean that honestly.”
He looks at Horace desperately, and the man gives him a very even look back. Simon deserves it, deserves as blank of a look as he can get from Horace, deserves to vomit every truth across the bench and be dismissed, like he’d done so many times to the other. “I didn’t understand why I didn’t like you. I just knew that you...grated on me. On my nerves. My memories were shit, I had nothing, no fucking family, just...you. And I think I blamed you for that, even then. Because you stayed. Because you were always there.” There were times when he did wonder if Horace could have been replaced with any kid at the orphanage. If he had bothered to make friends with any of the others, would he have hated them just as much? Would they have been a scapegoat for his anger? Would he have cared enough about Horace then to murder him?
He bites his lips together and waits for the words to come. When they do, they are harsh, because they are the utmost honest words he’s ever said to the man. “I put on a mask to love you.” He hates the hurt look in Horace’s eyes, but he’s trying to tell him everything before he’s gone for the rest of Simon’s life. “The Simon you knew was something I fabricated to make sure you’d want me enough that you wouldn’t think about why I needed you to.”
Horace opens his mouth, but no sound comes out. He looks devastated.
Simon presses on, each word a shard of glass in his up his arms, his neck, his tongue, tearing him to ribbons. “Please, don’t get me wrong. Horace, I did love you. I...I-I didn’t understand it, but I did. But I also needed you to trust me.”
“Of course I did.”
Simon nods slowly. “Yes. Because I was there. Because I kissed you, and fucked you, and drank with you. I was your friend again, wasn’t I? Even if I couldn’t hide the broken parts, even when you knew something was off. I was your friend from when we were six.”
Horace looks away. It’s enough of an answer.
“Exactly.” He looks at his lap, and wishes he could change this, wishes this meeting was the kind of closure that gets the wrapping paper and a bow on top, and not the kind that gets a demolition crew and leaves behind an empty lot. “I’m not that person anymore, Horace. I never was. You loved someone who didn’t exist.”
Horace scoffs. “Kind of arrogant of you to assume that. You don’t know a person for eighteen years and not catch at least a good glimpse of who they really are.” He can see the man lean forward a bit in his peripheral. “Your mistake is assuming that I didn’t love you for exactly the parts you tried so hard to hide.”
Simon shrugs. “Maybe. But you didn’t know what I was hiding, did you?” He doesn’t mean the harshness in his tone, but he can’t take it back. “You aren’t omniscient, and I never once let you in. You loved me for the shadow you saw behind me, but you never asked about it. You didn’t know what you were looking at when you saw me.”
“Of course I did, you asshole,” Horace bites out. “I saw you, and I knew who the hell I had in my bed.”
“Simon,” Horace sighs, “just because you hid those parts of yourself--and believe me, I knew that too, when I fell in love with you--that doesn’t mean I didn’t know that parts of you still existed.”
When he meets Horaces eyes again, after a stretch of five minutes, they are soft and so, so sad. “You saw what I gave you to see,” Simon insists. Because he has to believe Horace fell in love with a stand-in version of himself, and not the whole package.
“I did. And I saw my friend. I saw the kid who hid with me under the slide when we were six, and I saw someone who flinched when he couldn’t see my hands when we were twenty three. I saw you.” He sighs, and looks up at the ceiling, the yellow tuft of hair at the end of his mohawk flopping back. “Right up until the very end. Even then, I always saw you.”
Perhaps it’s the wistful way he says it, like a fond memory, or the distance in his voice, but it forces a hysterical bubble of laughter out of Simon, who barely finds enough strength to tamp down on it before it becomes a sob.
Horace’s eyes fall to him, wary. “What?”
“Nothing. Just. Speaking of that,” he tries and fails for casual aloofness, “I thought you would have an earful to shout at me.” He shrugs his shoulders in a jerky motion. “You know, what with your death being my fault and all.”
The man squints at thim. “You honestly think I couldn’t figure out that you set me up to be interrogated?”
Another hysterical bubble of laughter. “Think? I counted on it!” He remembers the evening before Horace left for his job. Remembers the butterflies when he saw Horace’s arrest on the news, and can recall the anticipation as he took the chessboard from his hands with clarity and a rolling wave of guilt. “I practically held your hand and told you to go fuck yourself!” he says, spreading his hands. “Aren’t you mad at me for that?”
He doesn’t even blink. “Oh, I am.” The ice behind the sorrow is full force now, and Simon withers like flowers in the winter under it. “When it clicked for me what she had me in for, I was so furious I wanted to kill you myself.”
That...surprises him. He was under no delusion Horace was an idiot, but he would have thought the man would have been resigned. A sick dog at the end of a shotgun barrel, fate sealed and inevitable. He hadn’t thought Horace would have had the energy to fight back. Knowing that he had no only figured it out, but remained pissed and quiet… “So why didn’t you say anything?” he prompts. “I gave you such an easy way out. You could have had your revenge then and there.”
“Never.” It is said with such fierceness, Simon pulls back, stunned. “I would rather die than let anyone else harm you.”
Simon scoffs. Typical. “Oh, fuck off, Horace, stop being so melodramatic—”
And then pauses. Horace raises an eyebrow, and Simon clears his throat, his face warm with shame and embarrassment. He...had died for Simon hadn’t he? Had died for his plan, for his pleasure, and, unbeknownst to him, for his safety.
He had all the evidence to his whereabouts, had him in his bed, had the key to his fucking room at the Berry Big Circus, and not even once did he think to free himself? Simon had all but pulled the lever at the gallows, and Horace had stood there still, ever the knight, and protected him.
“You... deserved to die.” He whispers this, stunned, but isn’t sure where it’s directed.
The man’s icy glare is sharper now, and the edges of hurt are leaking through around the sorrow and misery he keeps in them. “Come fucking again?”
He shakes his head, desperate. This stupid, stupid man. He could have lived. If he’s telling the truth, he could have lived. “If you’re foolish enough to trust someone so blindly, even knowing that they’ve betrayed you, you deserve what’s coming to you for that.” He can feel himself shaking again, and he knows he’s close to falling to pieces. “Weren’t you angry?”
If Simon had been sitting there and the situation had been reversed, could he say he’d to the same for Horace? Had Horace been worth enough for Simon to risk his own life? He realizes, with genuine horror, that no, he hadn’t been. The most important thing to Simon hadn’t been his wretched life, but the down fall of those who had ruined it.
He would still have killed Horace. He can feel something in his chest tug and squeeze and he feels breathless. Why, in the name of God, had Horace let him get away with it?
“Oh, I was mad as hell,” Horace tells him. “But I wasn’t going to let that bitch get her claws on you.” The loyalty and conviction in his voice, even now, breaks his heart. He could have lived, and he chose Simon. He chose Simon. Even after seeing the chisel, and figuring it out, after being trapped in that dark room with that monster of a woman, he chose Simon.
“See?” he says, with another bark of laughter, trying to hide the mounting feeling to scream. “That’s your weakness! Your stubborn need to ‘protect’ me, even at the risk of your own life!”
“Well, it was more like—”
And that’s it. There is nothing he can do to hold back anymore, and he is shouting before he can stop himself and regain composure. His throat is tight, and his nose and eyes sting. Horace is dead, and he died because he loved Simon, who only saw that as a new move to use on a chessboard. He hadn’t understood.
“Just a simple name drop and you would have been free, you moron!” he shouts, leaning into it. “You’re a stupid, short sighted, reckless bastard, Horace--” he breaks off to shake his head, and he can feel a broken, manic expression fit itself where so many masks had been placed over it, “and you deserved to die!”
He’s hyperventilating, and the last clear image before his vision is obscured by tears, Horace’s face. It’s a look he knows, a look he wished he could find alone in his cell, because it’s the look of mutual terror he often got when Simon woke from a night terror. The same sadness, the same panic that made it seem like he feared Simon would fall to pieces if he wasn’t there to hold him together.
Simon had thought it ridiculous at the time, pretended to scoff at the feeling of Horace’s body around him, at the safety of being in his arms.
He had been everything, and Simon had destroyed him.
He could have lived, and yet here they sat, and Horace was never coming back.
“You--” he can barely breathe, “--you deserved... you deserved better than me.”
Simon hears Horace stand, but only sees him move close to the glass in his blurry peripheral, before he hunches forward and wraps his arms around his middle.
“Hey,” Horace tries, but there is no warm hand on his back, no gentle fingers through his hair. This isn’t a nightmare, this is a consequence. “Shh. Shh, Simon, hey, look at me.”
He can’t. He’s never going to see him again, properly see him, and it’s his own fucking fault. This is why he hadn’t wanted this, why Blackquill should have left him be; it was pointless to want for something that no longer existed.
“I fucking miss you,” he hisses. “Horace, I do. And it--it’s horrible to say that, because I can’t afford to miss you, I have no goddamn right to miss you, but I fucking miss you. ”
He hears Horace’s breath shake as he exhales. “I miss you, too.”
“I know it’s far too late for that, but you’re dead so no time like the present.” His voice is pathetic, shaking, and he closes his sentence with another agonized sob. “I am--I--you, of all fucking people, should not have protected me. You stupid, stupid bastard.”
“I’d do it again,” the man tells him, honest even in death, always honest with him. “Please look at me, Simon.”
He can’t. “Horace, I’m sorry.”
“Shh, I know.”
He curls further in on himself, and shakes his head. He can’t know. He can’t know that every nightmare opens the wound a little more, that every moment spent awake is spent trying hard to forget he knew Horace so that he can think beyond grief. He can’t know that he stays as far as he can from workroom A. He can’t know how sorry Simon is when Simon had barely known himself.
He knows now, though. There is a hollowness just below his heart that drops from it a heavy weight into his stomach that nauseates him. It’s carved out of him, and jammed back in, in a way that is more painful than the original. The loss is scar, and a bruise, and a crippling wound. And it aches to hold Horace’s face in his hands and tell him at least one truth.
“I love you.” He doesn’t know what else he can say. “I love you.”
It changes nothing, but he should at least hear it, really, truly hear it before Horace leaves him.
Eventually, the tears do slow, and he is left empty and shaking. His eyes are sore, and his voice is weak, and he can hear Horace murmuring softly on the other side of the glass. When he looks up, Horace smiles back with someone else’s body.
“Hey,” he says, as if he were just waking up next to him, sleepy and dazed. He places a hand on the glass, and spreads his fingers.
Simon sighs, and places his hand over the shape of Horace’s. It hurts. “Hey.”
Horace chuckles, and watches Simon’s eyes. Neither of them look away once they’ve found each other.
They stay like that for a few seconds or for hours, before Horace whispers, “I have to go now.”
Simon wants to shut his eyes against those words, but doesn’t dare look away. “Don’t.”
Horace winces. “I don’t want to, but I...I have to.”
“Please,” Simon begs. It’s useless, but he can’t seem to stop himself. “I don’t...please don’t leave.”
Horace scoffs playfully. “As if. I told you, I tend to stick around.” His smile is sad, but genuine. “I’ve got you. Even when I’m gone, I’ve got you.”
And then the mediums brown eyes blink slowly back at him, and she draws her hand back carefully, giving him sorrowful smile. They’re wet, just like Horace’s had been.
The blow is devastating. In an instant, the love of his life is gone, and Simon has only cool glass under his fingers, and he can feel the tightness in his throat choking him.
“Mr. Keyes,” the woman says, swiping at her cheeks. “I’m...so sorry for your loss.”
He’s too tired to shout at her, too drained and empty of anything but an empty longing. “Don’t.”
She nods. “Alright.”
Simon gathers himself, or tries to. Taking anything more shallow than a single breath at a time causes the chasm in his chest to ripple and crumble. “What’s your name?”
“Hm? Oh!” The medium sticks her hand out, as if to shake his, and then thinks better of it, instead, giving him a sheepish grin from the other side of the glass. “Maya. Maya Fey.”
He nods. “So he’s...gone.”
Maya shrugs. “Yes, physically, from my body.” She smiles brightly. “But so long as he wants to stick around, he won’t be gone gone.”
“I think he loves you.” She says this softly. “The feelings left behind were...well. I think he loves you very much.”
Simon shuts his eyes. Voice trembling, he thanks her, and moves stiffly back to his cell.
Miles Edgeworth has never seemed the type to take to pacing, but Blackquill finds him doing so as he and miss Fey approach him. His relief at seeing her is quickly covered up by the gray-toned professionalism the man has always carried with him.
He nods once to Blackquill before addressing the medium. “Thank you most kindly, miss Fey. Your help is more than greatly appreciated.”
Maya beams, and shoves the man’s shoulder. No other living being--save for maybe her wife, Kay Faraday--could get away with such casualty around the man's peers. Not even his husband. “No sweat--this is not even close to the hardest thing I’ve done for my job.”
Edgeworth smiles, just a bit. “I think it’s a little more than that for you.”
Maya’s grin turns teasing. “Yeah, but I’m not you, you nerd--I don’t use words like ‘vocation’ in everyday conversations.” She steps forward to bring the man into a quick and gentle hug. “See you on Saturday?”
“Absolutely,” his superior says, and presses a friendly kiss to her cheek, which Maya returns before waving goodbye and practically running out of the precinct.
For a few moments, they watch her disappear through the doors and out into the busy lobby of the attached police station.
Keyes had been quiet by the time Blackquill had come back into the room. He had expected the man to be volatile, or screaming obscenities, or something, but he had only found him quietly nodding to whatever quiet kindness came out of Maya Fey’s mouth. It had worked out perfectly, as far as he could tell, and while Keyes had been rather unresponsive aside from a head nod or two, he had looked...resigned. Not what he was hoping for when he’d decided to tackle this issue, but it was at least a look that didn’t bring with it the familiar stubbornness the man was capable of. Blackquill decides it’s a win, and to lay off of him for the next few weeks. Allow him his solitude and rest after such an ordeal.
He eyes the Chief Prosecutor. Speaking of…”Sir--there’s something that I struggle to understand.”
Edgeworth doesn’t so much as turn his head or body, as he does his voice. He does this in such away that his words pin their unlucky victims to the spot without so much as a passing glance. It was quite the trick. “And what might that be, prosecutor Blackquill?”
Blackquill hesitates. “Well. It’s not that I’m ungrateful for this opportunity to work on this--quite the opposite--but it does leave me wondering…” he trails off, looking over his shoulder to the thick metal doors of the jail. He remembers those doors well, and remembers what lies beyond even more so. “Why would you go so out of your way to help a convicted criminal who refuses to repent?”
“As I recall, one could have said the same about you some time ago.”
He feels heat rising up his neck, shame curling just a bit in his gut at the memories. “One could have, sir.”
For quite a long time, they stand and stare at nothing. The air is heavy around them, and Blackquill thinks that perhaps he has gone too far, questioning his superior’s motives in a case involving what is--more or less--a friend of his.
And then Edgeworth surprises him. “The way I see it is that he, too, was a victim of circumstances grander than him.”
He raises an eyebrow. “Does that justify bending the rules?”
Edgeworth turns to give him a measured look. All of the Chief Prosecutor’s looks are measured, of course. This one is measured in wariness, and trust. He nods once, almost imperceptibly, to himself before facing forward again, hands behind his back. “Let’s just say that I believe in second chances. After all, I do have firsthand experience of making amends with one’s past misdeeds.” He moves slowly forward toward the exit, and Blackquill follows. “I was given the gift of the mercy and devotion of people who believed in me when I was blind to that potential myself. It’s my firm belief that our justice system ought to focus more on solving the roots of the issues rather than blindly punishing people for the symptoms.”
Blackquill thinks of the shoddy trial he’d received in the haste to do as the public asked and solve a murder by putting him to death. Thinks of his sister’s angry words about the fault of their courts, and the cowardice of his heart, and how he’d thought the most he could do for someone was die so they didn’t have to, wondering how that ended up being this world’s version of ‘justice.’ He thinks of a young man with black roots and fading red hair dye waking in the middle of the night from demons that had either long since faced the courts, or who had...no longer been around thanks to their corruption. Thinks of the case file of Simon Keyes, of his psychiatric profile, and the post-traumatic stress that comes with being on the run from an entire system that was supposed to hide you from the problems and tragedy it had caused. He thinks, also, that Miles Edgeworth has been around long enough to contribute to both the villains and the heroes, and has seen enough of both to be this sure-footed in where he now stood. He almost grins. “You are a person of tremendous character, sir.”
Edgeworth snorts. “Don’t sell yourself short, Blackquill,” he says, dismissive. “You are the one who suggested this.” They reach the door to the lobby, and the man steps through first, holding it open for Blackquill. “Speaking of which. Are we making any progress?”
Blackquill looks over his shoulder, and this time he does smile, if only a bit. If he were anyone else (namely, Athena), it might be thought of as “hopeful.”
He nods once. “You know, sir...I think we just might be.”
Simon lays in his cell, eyes rimmed red and throat tight. He watches the ceiling, and looks again for constellations in the cracks, for something salvageable in the deterioration of the world around him. When he shuts his eyes, he can almost feel a familiar weight next to him, one arm thrown over his middle, and a head heavy on his shoulders.
When he shuts his eyes, it’s like he’s twenty four, and the world is aligned for an evening as Knightley slumbers next to him in post-coital exhaustion, and Simon beats his insomnia by counting the marks he left on his back. He is warm there, at twenty four, and he is, for just a moment, safe.
A few rogue tears manage slip out before he can stop them. He pretends that phantom weight is real just for a moment, and drifts.