"I'm telling you, John, it just doesn't make sense: relationships between bureaucrats and assassins do not work."
John Wick had been listening to his good friend, Marcus, ramble on for about thirty minutes, as they stood in a busy mall, about the pitfalls of being friends with an Administrator. Truth be told, Wick had tried to hide his growing friendship with the High Table civil servant from his mentor for as long as possible. Only a stupid slip of the tongue while they had been out Christmas shopping had screwed things up.
"All this because I simply asked if this tie would look good on him?" John asked Marcus in good humoured weariness as he held the catalytic item up.
"I'm sorry John but how did you even fall into this thing? Whatever this thing may be."
The younger assassin sighed and let the tie fall back on the rack. He did not want to tell the older man what had started it all. Marcus, while always kind, tolerant, philosophical and wise, had never been the most understanding about this one particular problem, John understood.
Many months prior, closing on two years now, John Wick had discovered that what he had perceived for over half a decade had been nothing more than a form of High Table punishment. For having cheated on Gianna D'Antonio, he had been sentenced to experience a reality where he fell in love and then lost everything. The punishment had found him falling in love with a woman named Helen, lose her to an unknown disease, have the puppy she had gifted him with be murdered and then find even the world of the High Table making him excommunicado and placing an absorbantly large bounty on his head.
It had been hell; a pure out nightmare. However, there had been one bright spot throughout it all: Helen Wick herself.
Waking up from that dream to discover she had been nothing more than some conjured reality had devastated John Wick and nearly driven him mad.
It had only been the man known as the Administrator's kind words to embrace his love for Helen, regardless of her imagined state, and accept her existence as a reality, which had given him the strength to continue to live in this world without her.
None of his other friends had shown that level of compassion or understanding and Wick had found himself taking the bureaucrat up on his offer to call him up and talk about Helen whenever he felt the need to. The small pencil pusher had promised to never look down on him for loving a woman whom had never existed.
And to his honor, John Wick realized, that the Administrator had kept his word.
It was another reason why he had wanted to get him something for Christmas and another reason why he was in this mess of having to defend something that did not need defending.
In a sudden flash of irritation and not knowing why he should feel the need to lie, John decided to just come clean. "I talk to him about Helen sometimes."
Marcus' expression changed to one of shocked pity. "You talk to him about your dead wife, whom never really existed?"
John stayed silent and unmoving.
"Do you realize how crazy that sounds, John?"
Choosing to remain quiet, John did not reply, knowing that while it sounded crazy, it felt anything but.
"He is an enabler," Marcus said kindly, as he placed a hand in comfort on his friend's shoulder. "He's just using you to get something out of you."
"And what would that be Marcus?"
"The two things that this sort of crap is only ever about," the older assassin sighed. "Power or sex."
John frowned incredulously.
"You are a good looking man, John Wick."
"He has never asked me for anything," the Baba Yaga argued. "He's never laid so much as a finger on me either."
Marcus tilted his head, considered this and then looked back at his friend. "Give him time. From what I've heard, bureaucrats, especially Administrators, can get pretty lonely."
John Wick turned around and stared at the tie back on the rack. The words were probably true, he knew.
The same could be said for grieving assassins too.
* * *
Marcus' words about the worlds of bureaucrats and assassins not mixing had also held some truth, John Wick thought when he returned to his room at the Continental.
As he placed the packages that filled his arms to overflowing capacity onto the bed, the assassin thought about the divide that would usually separate him from the Administrator.
The world both above and under the High Table went about its wicked way in a fashion similar to all ways of life; divisions existed, usually created by class or profession. Of course, those twelve whom sat at the table resided at the top echelon. They were only less respected than the Elder who was even more powerful, and who's commands they must obey. Adjudicators, and others whom maintained the laws of the Table, were placed directly under the twelve. Administration and Management existed below them. Both contained either former assassins or people whom had been placed in their position by other criminal connections or underworld activity. Somewhere below all of these were the assassins. They were higher in ways then those merchants whom provided them with their artillary, clothes and nourishments yet they were still viewed by many as simple servants.
Or even dogs by those harboring certain social prejudices.
The bureaucrats fell into this category, often delighting in imposing official red tape on the assassins and hitmen under the Tables direct or indirect control. The office workers looked at the assassins as animals, only existing as tools needed to attend to the less pleasant and more violent tasks of their shared world.
On the other hand, assassins looked at the pencil pushers with complete and utter disdain. Administrators were souless robots that seemed to be born only to make their lives hell with their endless and needless paperwork, nonsensical legislations and elevator music when they were put on hold while trying to reach one of them.
Having regained his past memories of before his punishment, John Wick was ashamed of what his own opinion of Administrators had been before he had met the one that had handled his case and had eventually become his friend.
Was that even the right word, John Wick wondered. The man listened to him share memories of Helen; memories which had never even happened. Occasionally they met one another and talked or ate. Most of it was rather quiet, the Administrator rarely sharing private information about himself. About the only thing Wick knew about the man, besides his profession, was that he had never been in love, had very little life outside of his office and considered himself to be a misanthropist.
Still, the time that they spent was comfortable enough and John found himself looking forward to it for he was never judged by the younger man and could always count on him to listen.
With a shock, the assassin realized that during the last few weeks he had found himself thinking and talking about his dead and unreal wife less and less with the Administrator.
Remembering Marcus' insinuations, John Wick tried to recall any moment the bureaucrat had behaved in a suspicious or inappropriate way. He could think of no such moment and suddenly found himself wondering, like Marcus, why the other man wanted to help him, what they were to one another and what exactly the Administrator's opinions were on hitmen in general.
His mind racing after Marcus' words, John Wick tried to reach his pierced and tattooed acquaintance only to have to listen to an organ version of "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head."
"Administration," a familiar voice answered.
"What do you think of me?" John Wick asked without bothering to say who he was.
He heard the bureaucrat sigh on the other end of the line.
"I think that you are foolish to call me at work and have to endure endless minutes of muzak."
"But what do you think of assassins?" John carried on past the semi-insult. "Are we friends...you aren't using me are you?"
Another sigh travelled along the distance of the phone line. "Somebody found out about us didn't they?"
"Marcus," the Baba Yaga replied.
"Tomorrow afternoon," the pierced man said calmly, if wearily. "We can have lunch. We can do our Christmas shopping together."
John Wick looked at the collapsed tower of Christmas parcels around him. "Sure."
"Good," the Administrator said professionally. "We will talk then. Goodbye."
The click of the call being ended and John Wick looked at the pile of presents he had purchased for a variety of people he cared for yet still felt detatched from. It often seemed as if they were nothing more than shapes made of smoke and if he breathed too hard he risked them floating away on the breeze and never seeing them again.
All except the Administrator.
* * *
The Administrator was bending over looking at some jewelry that a street vendor was selling. John Wick watched his blank and unreadable expression and wondered if he liked what he saw or not. He was a difficult person to read or discern the thoughts of. It was always interesting to try though.
Today the pierced man was wearing a black leather jacket. It fit his slight frame well and Wick could tell the Administrator had probably owned it for years. He wore a torn pair of jeans, which had probably been in his possession for as long as the jacket.
At first, the disparity between the younger man's casual clothes and his work uniform had surprised John Wick. He had grown used to it, however. Just as he had grown used to the pencil pusher himself.
Staring at the small man, Wick looked at him and meditated silently on how the man felt more real to him than the people he had been well acquainted with prior to his punishment and the implantation of Helen Wick inside of his mind. He could look at the Administrator and not feel two different realities inside of his badly broken mind at war with each other. Maybe that was why he enjoyed the bureaucrat's company so much.
John wondered if it was the man's infamiliarity or his blind acceptance of his feelings for Helen that resulted in his feeling of peace when they were together.
Having decided not to buy the item which had interested him enough to stare at for a quarter of an hour in the freezing weather, the Administrator stuck his hands in his pockets and walked down the cold New York City street. John kept pace with him and they made a strange pair walking in harmony together.
"What was your first Christmas present for Helen?" the pierced man asked, curious, as if she had been real.
"The first Polaroid camera ever made," John smiled. "I got it online with some old film. She was a photographer."
"I know," the Administrator said.
John stared ahead. There were many things they had discussed already about the woman he had loved. While discussions about their sex life had never been broached, Wick knew that any other topic about his false existence with Helen could be revealed without any fear of reproach. The Administrator would listen calmly, never giving any sign that he was bored or found it odd.
"I still like the dog she gave you before she died," the bureaucrat said as he kicked an old beer can out of his way.
"Daisy...Yeah. That was cute. Wish I could have met them both."
"Do you really mean that?" John asked casting a questioning gaze down at him.
The Administrator shrugged. "Why not?"
"Marcus said that you're just using me," Wick stated.
"Did he? Have I even touched you since that night I socked you at the Continental bar and brought you back to your room?"
"No," the hitman answered, finding it suddenly peculiar how they both avoided physical contact of any kind between them.
"Everybody uses everybody. Even friendship is a form of using somebody so we're not so fucking lonely."
"Are we friends?"
"You make me not feel so lonely. Do I do the same for you?" the Administrator looked up at the assassin.
"Then we're friends."
John looked ahead on the street. "Nobody thinks that an assassin should be friends with a bureaucrat."
"What do you think about it?"
"I don't see why we can't be," John stated.
Seemingly pleased with his companions reply, the Administrator looked in at the store windows on the street. They were decorated with tinsel and lights and joyfully and greedily showed off what merchandise was on sale that week.
"What do I think of assassins, you asked me?" he suddenly said, answering a question posed the previous night. "I think that you think with your guns instead of your brains. I think you are violent animals no matter how dignified you pretend to be; like your friend, Marcus."
John tried not to show how wounded he was by the bureaucrat's words.
"Now ask me what I think about Administrators and the rest of my ilk, John Wick," the small man demanded.
"What do you think about bureaucrats?" the Baba Yaga followed the instructions.
"I think that we're all souless robots who have sold our souls for comfort," the Administrator stated. "General rule: we're all people and we all stink."
John smiled, as he watched his companion throw a few gold coins into a salvation army kettle, as he delivered his misanthropic speech.
"So why do you never touch me?" the great Baba Yaga asked.
"The same reason why you never touch me, Mr. Wick," the Administrator stated. "I'm afraid I'll find out you aren't real."
Just as he had figured before with Marcus' words concerning loneliness, Wick suspected the Administrator's words to be true, as well.
"Are we going to do some shopping?" the assassin asked as they stopped walking and stood on the sidewalk.
"I'm finished," the bureaucrat confessed. "You're my only friend, Mr. Wick, and I picked out your present already last week."
* * *
"She's beautiful and she is 100% real, Jonathan," Winston stated as he shared a drink with his friend at a booth in the Continental's bar.
"I don't think so Winston," John Wick declined.
"Are you telling me that you have made other arrangements for Christmas?" the Englishman asked, his martini glass half raised and halted on the way to his lips, due to his surprise.
Wick hesitated telling the hotel manager that he had arranged to see the Administrator on both Christmas Eve and Christmas itself. He feared the same dismissive and suspicious reaction as Marcus had given. Still, even besides this, taking Winston's friend out felt very wrong and unwanted somehow.
"No," the assassin lied. "I'm just not ready yet."
"Pardon me if I am being rude but ready how?" the Englishman asked in sincere perplexsion. "You have never been married Jonathan; the dearly departed Helen was a cruel torture and nothing more."
Before he could stop it, John felt himself wince; those words never failed in wounding him no matter how many times he had heard them.
Knowing the pain he had unwillingly caused, Winston reached over and patted his friend's hand. "I'm sorry. That was unfeeling of me. I am sure, though, that if Helen were to be here, she would tell you the same: move on and leave the agony of the past safely in the past."
"Thank you, Winston," John said, sensing the older man's attempt to be kind.
"I'll go and get us another drink," the Englishman said and stood, taking both his and Wick's glasses back to the bar for Addy to refill.
In the Continental manager's absense, a slender dark figure took his vacated seat and John Wick looked up to see his ex-lover, Gianna D'Antonio staring at him seductively across the table.
"Ciao Jonathan," she greeted. "It has been a long time."
"I wish it had been longer," he replied ruefully.
"Hush now," she cooed. "There are to be no more hard feelings between us. Our debt is settled. As Winston said: let us leave the past in the past."
John Wick wondered just how long the woman had been listening.
"I forgave you a long time ago," she continued on, undeterred by his silence. "The punishment was enough to pay your debt to me."
"It was more than enough," John stated. D'Antonio had vengefully caused him pain for dallying with an assassin named Sofia, knowing all the while that she was carrying on with her bodyguard, Cassian.
"Still I have to wonder if you aren't still punishing yourself," she whispered, letting her voice trail off.
"How?" John heard himself asking without wanting to.
"It is on everybody's lips," Gianna answered. "You have been seen around town cavorting with an Administrator. People are saying you have lost both your taste and your mind. Assassins do not mix with bureaucrats. It is an unspoken rule. Did your time locked away inside your own mind make you forget? What else have you forgotten about yourself? Tell me, Jonathan, did my punishment work so well that you have turned into a faggot too?"
John Wick quickly grabbed the woman's wrist as Winston returned to the table.
"Nessuna attivita," she spat. "Or we may have to punish you some more. How about we take away your real little love this time, amore mio?"
John threw her hand away from him. Rubbing her wrist, she smiled without affection and left the table.
"What on earth was that all about?" the Englishman asked.
"Nothing," Wick answered.
"Are you really in love with somebody, Jonathan? If you are then I completely understand your reaction. I will tell..."
"No," John interrupted the man. "I have reconsidered; my answer is yes."
Winston smiled brightly and raised his glass. "To decisions wisely made and relationships, should they bloom."
"Is she a bureaucrat?" the assassin asked, peering into his glass of whiskey.
"Good Heavens no!" the Englishman exclaimed. "She's a dancer with the Royal Canadian Ballet Company! I thought with your past you'd have a lot to talk about."
"And here I thought you wanted me to leave the past in the past," John Wick said, downing his whiskey as quickly as possible and feeling the first few stings of guilt and misery.
* * *
He called the Administrator at home this time. John Wick had been there on the rare occasion. It was a large and somewhat empty apartment in the West End. It gave away very little about its sole inhabitant other than he liked both punk and classical music and had a taste for surreal art.
"Hello," the bureaucrat answered in a voice only slightly less reserved than the one he used at work.
John suddenly realized, that for any time he had contacted the man, he had never offered his real name. It was just another secret that the Administrator apparently kept to himself.
"I can't spend Christmas Eve or Christmas with you," John Wick said, not stating his name; the man never failed in recognizing it. "Something important came up."
A moment of brief silence before it was broken. "Okay. Goodbye."
Before John could return the farewell the call was ended.
The assassin looked at the phone in his hand and then placed it back on the cradle.
Guilt crowded in on him like the thousands of people filling the shopping malls in their frenzied search for suitable holiday presents. He tried to reason it away; the Administrator should understand; they came from different worlds.
Two realities almost as separate as this one and the punishment which had created Helen Wick.
It was good that he should meet Winston's date. They would have one thing in common, at least: dance training. Still John Wick felt shame over what he had just done.
And disappointment that the Administrator had let him do it so easily.
* * *
The Continental at Christmas time was something to behold. Winston spared no expense in decorating it for the season in red, green and white. It would look like something out of a child's picture book, John thought, only children were rarely seen or welcomed on the hotel's consecrated grounds.
Wick took the elevator down to the lobby, stifling a yawn. His sleep had been poor the last few nights. He kept dreaming of Helen. And while this was usually welcome, it being the only real place that he could see her, the accusatory look in her eyes disturbed him. She refused to speak with her husband but only glared at him instead.
Stepping into the lobby, the assassin saw Charon motioning him towards him. "Merry Christmas Eve, Mr. Wick," the concierge greeted.
"Happy approaching Kwanzaa to you, Charon," John returned.
"There was a message left for you: You are to head to the Administration building when you are able. The paperwork on your last task needs to be filled out before tomorrow."
John frowned as he stared at the paper the man handed him, which stated the same information. Of all the places he least wanted to have to visit it was there. He feared having to speak with the Administrator; they had not talked or seen each other since Wick had cancelled their plans.
"I'll take care of it," John said, stuffing the piece of paper into his jacket pocket.
"Very good sir," Charon said. "If I may be so bold, I wish you the best on your date tonight."
"If I may say, she is a very lovely girl. She is staying in room 208 and she just arrived last night. I do not believe you will be disappointed."
John nodded and then turned and left. If Winston, whose taste was exquisite, had chosen her, Wick thought, then Charon's words were truthful also. She would be beautiful, cultured and funny. He did not need to actually meet her to know this. John Wick could not actually make himself excited about the meeting, however. His heart felt as frozen as the rink at Rockefeller plaza that he passed on the way to take care of the business appointed to him by the High Table.
* * *
While the Baba Yaga was promised not to be disappointed with his blind date, he did regret the fact that he was taken to see the Administrator directly to fill out the required paperwork. The man gave no indication that he was upset, though, John noted, treating him in the same professional manner as before.
As the assassin handed the bureaucrat the completed form he met the clear green eyes behind the glasses. "I have a present for you. I left it in my motel room. I'll give it to you after the 25th."
"That was kind but unnecessary," the Administrator stated.
"I wanted to," Wick said, truthfully.
Both of their hands were linked by the sheet of paper until John relinquished his hold and made his way to the path outside of the office.
"If I don't see you again, I want to wish you merry Christmas, Mr. Wick."
John's hand hovered over the doorknob. He did not turn around but asked. "Why aren't you angry? Why aren't you angry with me?"
"Are you familiar with solipsism?" the Administrator asked.
"Yes," the assassin answered. "It is the belief that only one's self exists."
"Precisely," the pierced man replied. "You see, John Wick. I am not only a misanthropist; I am a solipist as well. Until that day you stood before me in my office, I was quite content and happy being so. When I saw you, though, nothing else felt as real as you did. You shook my belief, if only for a moment, and I cannot hate you for that reason. If you choose to fade away and become a little less real...well it can only be expected."
Without turning around, John grabbed the doorknob, and having turned it hastily, rushed out of the Administrator's office.
* * *
Winston's ballerina's name was Claire. She was also absolutely stunning. John Wick was enchanted by her crystal blue eyes, her silken jet hair and the naughty curl of her lip. It was a hollow enchantment, however; she could not move him inside of his heart anymore than the countless number of dolls that numberless amounts of parents would be placing under the Christmas trees for their children that night.
"So Winston tells me that you kill people for a living is that true?" Claire asked, as she drank her champagne, her tongue flicking its rim playfully and suggestively.
"In a matter of speaking," John Wick answered. "Does that bother you?"
"No," she replied. "Should it?"
"My wife minded," John stated as he remembered Helen's request that she would only say yes to his marriage proposal if he left the world of the High Table behind.
"Our mutual friend never told me that you were married," she said as if it made no difference.
"I'm not...it's just..." John fumbled to explain. It was so much easier with the Administrator, whom never needed excuses or defences.
"It's okay," the ballerina cooed. "Tonight and tomorrow you won't be; that's good enough for me."
Attractive, funny and cultured, yes. Moralistic, no.
John Wick felt her grab his knee under the table. He squirmed and grabbed her and his own empty glasses. "I'll get these filled," he said and excused himself from the table.
"You look miserable,"John heard a voice say at the bar and turned to see Marcus sitting there, nursing a Virgin Mary. Following his friend's eyesight, the older man held up the glass. "In honor of the night!"
"I thought you didn't believe," John said.
"Just for tonight," Marcus said. "On Christmas nothing feels real anyway. Having fun?"
"What do you think?"
The other assassin frowned. "You looked happier before. I'm sorry John. Don't listen to me. Anything that helps you survive this world and doesn't give you cancer or clot your arteries can't be all bad."
"What are you saying?" John Wick asked, hopefully.
"I'm saying that I was wrong," Marcus answered. "Do what ever makes you happy, John Wick. After all, nothing's real tonight anyway."
John watched as his friend raised his glass.
"Peace on earth, goodwill to all men," Marcus toasted. "Even bureaucrats."
John made his way back to the table. Suffering a little more small talk he saw his date for what she truly was: an escape route from Gianna D'Antonio's words. He also knew that the woman was Winston's holiday gift to him. Claire was the incarnation of any previous conquest the hotel manager had ever seen him with before the punishment.
But as nice as the sentiment was, John Wick knew that the time had finally come to stop living in the past, as the older man had suggested, and exchange this gift for the present that he really wanted.
* * *
John Wick ran all the way to the Administrator's apartment as snow fell down both around and on him. The present for the bureaucrat was in his hand and his blind date was confused, insulted and abandoned in the Continental's bar. Winston was likely to never want to see him again but John felt like he could handle that.
Banging on the office worker's door, the assassin was happy when the small man opened it. He was wearing a white T-shirt and a pair of grey jogging pants. His black hair lay loose on his shoulders. John Wick thought he saw a flash of a smile even more beautiful than the ballerina's naughty one momentarily on the younger man's pierced lips when he intook who it was standing freezing outside his door, Christmas Eve night.
"May I come in?" John asked and the Administrator motioned him inside.
Once inside, Wick handed his friend the box he had brought. It was decorated with snowmen and the assassin had placed a bit of holly and ivy on it. "Here," he said as the pencil pusher took it.
Looking at him but never speaking, the Administrator opened the box to find the tie John Wick had asked Marcus about days ago. Attached to it was the nose ring that the bureaucrat had spent minutes at admiring at the street vendors the day they had not done the Administrator's shopping.
"Thank you," the bureaucrat said uncharastically warmly. "Your present has been keeping me company."
John Wick turned as he heard four small feet scampering across the apartment's hardwood floor. It was a beagle puppy very much like Daisy.
"It's a boy not a girl," the Administrator informed. "I've been calling him Dazey: D-A-Z-E-Y. It's a stolen idea but a good one."
John bent over and picked him up. He smiled at the puppy and then at his friend. "It's a good thing that I'll probably be kicked out of the Continental after tonight; they don't really like pets."
"Come and live with me," the Administrator invited. The words sounded strong and calm but the assassin could hear they were laced with a certain shyness that the man could not completely hide.
Putting the puppy gently down, John Wick took the small bureaucrat in his arms and embraced him.
"How can I tell if this is real?" the bearded man asked both happy and scared.
"Does it feel as real as when you held Helen?"
"Then it's real," the Administrator said and held John Wick back.