As Kim steers you ever homeward, you stare out of the passenger window and watch the snow floating through the streets. Every now and then a shape looms out of the darkness and into sudden clarity; a snapshot of the people passing by, caught for a split second by the pool of light issuing from the front of the motor carriage. They slip back into the shadows as you pass, and although your eyes roll to track them, the Kineema only goes forward. You see a gaggle of young women pressed into a herd, their fur-lined coats pulled up around their ears, laughing together. On the street corner, a couple holds hands on a bench, making twin puffs of smoke as they breathe out in unison. Outside a chain store, an old man is dumping tare into a machine; he feels you watching him immediately, and meets your eyes in the split second before you speed past.
It may be late, and cold, but Jamrock isn’t sleeping. All along her streets, there are people living their lives; planting flowers in charred earth, playing in ashes, stringing lights between the bones of bombed-out buildings. Life gets hard, but we go on .
You begin to recognize the pattern formed by the buildings around you. Even in the gloam, there’s a familiar angle here, a familiar patch of color there. You’re almost home.
Easing your fingers under your blazer, you gently rub your chest. Why is it so tight?
The Kineema purrs as the lieutenant shifts gears, stopping a razor’s breadth from the edge of the sidewalk, right outside your flat. Exhaustion is breathing down the back of your neck. Now that you’ve stopped, the day is bound to catch up with you. You feel half awake as you pull the latch on your door and ease yourself out, dragging your laundry behind you.
Kim walks you to your front door. The peeling paint is an almost welcome sight. You can’t remember the last time you were glad to be anywhere , much less home.
An unbidden urge to invite the lieutenant inside swells up in your chest. You’re terrible at goodbyes. You could pull him in for a cigarette, a chat, another round of questions. Anything would do.
You can’t hold onto him any longer, Harry. This is your home, but it isn’t his.
As you turn to wish him a good night, you see that the lieutenant is already pulling a lighter from his bomber jacket. He freezes in the middle of cupping his hands to nurture a flame, a cigarette dangling from his lips. Your surprise has caught him off guard.
“Sorry,” he says. “Habit.”
“I have time for a cigarette,” you say quickly, resting your bag of laundry up against the door. He relaxes.
The two of you plop down on your stoop, sharing a step while the lieutenant fills his lungs with smoke. He doesn’t offer you a drag, and you don’t ask. He might have the kind of self-control required to smoke just one a day, but you aren’t in a position to indulge yourself just yet.
For once, your body doesn’t ache in the absence of its vices, even as you watch Kim pull the cigarette from between his lips and exhale deeply, looking satisfied. It’s enough to be with him; to know that he considers you a part of this ritual now.
A plume of smoke furls out of him. You part your teeth and breathe out into the freezing air, forming a cloud of your own. It chases his, and they both dissipate in the darkness. Kim smiles.
“I’ll be heading to the precinct in the morning,” he says. “Any advice?”
“If I ever had any,” you tell him, hunching forward against the cold, “I don’t remember it.”
The lieutenant flicks his cigarette; a hundred minuscule particles of ash tumble into the night. You watch the pinpoint of light hovering near his hand where the cigarette keeps burning. It dances like a firefly on the way back toward his mouth.
“Fair enough. I’ll let you know if I have any, after tomorrow.”
“Thanks. Kind of wish I could go with you.”
It will be several days before you’re welcome at the station, with the injuries you sustained in Martinaise. You’re expected to spend time getting better, but you also hate being alone and aimless and far too aware of yourself. There are some terrifying ideations lurking in the darkest recesses of your brain. It remains to be seen whether you can single-handedly keep them at bay. Tomorrow, you’ll sink or swim.
You can feel the warmth of Kim’s shoulder next to yours as he shifts closer. You’re going to miss this.
“The station will be waiting for you, when you’re ready,” he tells you. “ You still need to recover,”
That’s the truest thing anyone’s ever said about you. You’re going to spend the rest of your life recovering.
Except if it takes that long, the station is certainly not going to be waiting for you. The world and everyone in it is going to move on by if all you do is sit around with your hand on your dick. It did before. That’s why you can’t let the infernal engine stop churning.
Quit running for one moment, and you get left behind forever. Doesn’t the thought of it just make you tired?
“I don’t see how ,” you mutter.
“You can rest,” Kim says, voice gentle. “It will get easier.”
He watched over you once, while you curled up inside an abandoned lighthouse and slept like a child. He was there when you woke up, Harry. But it was you who got yourself back on your feet.
“I think we’re a good team,” you confide.
When you tilt your head to get a read on him, he’s already looking at you. You can see the moon reflected in his glasses, nearly full.
“So do I,” he says.
It’s time to stop pretending you don’t see it, Harry. People used to call you the human can-opener, for fuck’s sake. You can guess thoughts the way other people breathe oxygen, and you can tell when someone wants to kiss you.
The urge to lean in and taste the nicotine still lingering on his tongue almost overpowers you. You barely resist it. There isn’t much of a self-preservation instinct left in you, but it stirs now, holding you back. Please stop doing this to yourself, Harry, you can’t take another unhappy ending. All you do is drag people down with you.
While you’re arguing with yourself, Kim drops his gaze, and his cigarette. He stands up before your senseless brain has the chance to tell your body what to do. You watch him grind his cigarette beneath his heel in one well-practiced motion.
“I’ve kept you out late,” he says. “And probably made you work too hard.You are supposed to be resting.”
“Right,” you say.
Wrong, your mind hisses at you. He wanted to kiss you, you felt it. Don't let him cut you off now.
Doubt is beginning to surface. Maybe you’re compromised. You’ve made this mistake before. You could be misreading all of it; you may be a human can-opener but you have the world’s most unreliable narrator for a brain. Your body also betrays you at every step; like it was designed to only crave the things you aren’t supposed to have. Put them together and they’re capable of astronomical damage.
As you should well know.
“Anyway,” the lieutenant is saying. “I’ll let you know how things go tomorrow. Thank you again, detective.”
“You too,” you find yourself saying. “Good night, Kim.”
“Good night,” he responds, and heads down the stairs.
This is how it goes: everyone leaves, and you never do anything about it until it’s too late.
He takes the steps carefully, one at a time. Not like you when you follow after him a moment later, your nervous system wresting the wheel away from your useless motor cortex. It steers you through the snow and after Lieutenant Kitsuragi with a singular purpose: you can’t let him walk away. Not yet, not when the atmosphere is heavy with things you’ve left unsaid.
Snow crunches under your feet. He reaches the Kineema in a few short strides -- a heartbeat later, you reach him.
“Wait,” you mumble.
You can see his face reflected in the window of the motor carriage, along with the row of streetlights behind you, each smaller than the last. He turns to you. A series of wrinkles cross his brow.
“What is it?” he asks, concerned.
“I wanted to…”
There are a hundred-thousand things you want to do, and your heavy tongue can articulate none of them. You can’t speak with your heart in your mouth. Instead, you lean forward, sucking in a breath like you’re about to plunge headfirst into the sea. You cross half the distance between you before you hesitate -- is this a bad idea?
Of course it is.
Kim reaches up in one quick motion. He grabs a handful of your collar and drags you forward, rising to meet you. Your mouth crashes into his and you grunt in surprise, fumbling. His back hits the motor carriage, and then your bodies align and you are suddenly kissing each other like you’ve just found water in the desert. Lightning arcs between you, and he arcs with it, angling toward you. The warmth of him seeps through your shirt and all the way down into your bones. With a muffled sound, he parts his lips and runs his tongue across yours, and the rush of nicotine flavour sends a pleasant tingle coursing through your whole body.
It was foolish to think you were about to sweep Lieutenant Kim Kitsuragi off his feet in a grand, romantic gesture. You barely have time to keep up with him. His fingers are on your jaw and in your hair -- it’s all you can do to plant your hands on either side of him and press him into the Kineema to keep him from toppling you both backward onto the street.
“Harry, ” he sighs into your mouth.The word melts through you like an ember in the snow.
Heat is rising in your face and radiating off of the lieutenant in waves. You’re dizzy with it, and with the sudden shift in blood pressure as your body remembers how to rise to the occasion -- it’s been a while, major, but it’s hard to forget the steps. Especially with Kim sliding one leg between yours and applying pressure that is at once too much and not nearly enough. All you are is animal instinct. You’re good at this part, once the ice is broken and you’ve plunged right in; and so is he.
His fingers are grasping desperately at your shoulders. You let your own hands roam; there’s no space for finesse, not when you’ve been waiting weeks to touch him. It’s a furnace beneath his bomber jacket. He presses himself into the frantic angle of your hands, drawing you closer.
A fire is starting deep in your pleural cavity. Your lungs scream, drawing your attention to the urgent matter of remembering to breathe.
Gasping, you break apart. Cold air rushes in to fill the vacuum left behind. Kim pants, his glasses sitting loose and low on the bridge of his nose. He’s staring at you as though he’s just realized that you’re here.
“Holy shit,” you say.
Kim takes in one long, rattling breath. His right shoulder is peeking up out of his bomber jacket, which was pulled down in the fray. He reaches up to push his glasses back into place. You watch the streetlights dance on the lenses. He finds the sturdy frame of his motor carriage with his free hand and leans against it, transferring weight away from his unsteady legs, and away from you.
Your body whines at you. Why are you stopping?
“Sorry if that was too forward,” he says.
“It took you long enough,” you reply.
He laughs, meeting your eyes. “Purposely. I think we both need time, detective.”
Deep in your gut, one of your vital organs does an unpleasant flip, sending a cold chill rattling up your spine.
“Time?” Your voice sounds smaller.
The lieutenant gives you a firm look. “I think you know what I mean.”
You do, whether you want to or not. This has all been too easy, and too fast; the two of you, swept up in the current ever since Martinaise. You need to let this breathe, and who can tell what will be left when the dust settles? A shiver runs through you. It’s ice cold; fear, and trepidation. With enough time, he’ll be able to change his mind. See what you really are.
His eyes are watching your mouth again, a little crack running through his composure. The restraint he's showing isn't easy for him. That doesn't make you feel better.
This is smart and responsible of him, but it leaves you at a distinct disadvantage. You’re not a long-term investment.
“Can’t we just…?”
He tilts his chin up at you; there’s a hint of disappointment there. He was hoping you’d show a little discipline. You stop talking.
“I’d like to do this right,” he says. “I’m not interested in the alternative. I won’t lose another partner.”
A hazy memory floats to the forefront of your mind, blood-soaked and distorted. The lieutenant crouching over you, up to his elbows in your viscera, breathing hard as he tries to piece you back together outside the Whirling-in-Rags. You’re dying in the street; he’s holding on with all he’s got. Not this time.
In the present, Kim’s eyes are burning into you, gauging your reaction. The wind kicks up around you, disturbing the snow. This can only go one way. Together, or not at all.
“I understand,” you say.
Relieved, he surges forward again, giving you a chaste kiss on the mouth. It’s soft, and final.
“Good,” he says, pulling back. “We'll talk more about it. Tomorrow."
He's careful to emphasize it. He needs time and space to think.
"Good night, detective," he adds quietly.
Your pulse is audible in your ears. He wrests open the door of the Kineema and a moment later, it roars to life, its halogen headlights taking a snapshot of the anxious look on your face. Your retinas burn. You step off to the side, wrangling with yourself. A tide of grief is rising in you; it doesn’t seem to care that you’ll see him again soon; that this is a potential beginning, not an end. All it recognizes is the pattern of people leaving you; the empty space where his body fit next to yours.
“Good night,” you call out to the window.
Inside the carriage, the lieutenant raises his hand in your direction, giving a wave. Then the Kineema eases away from the sidewalk and starts off down the hill, unstoppable and unreachable. You watch the tail lights trail off into the dark before you turn and hobble up to your thin, green door.
Your clean, empty, silent flat greets you past the threshold. It is absent of unpleasant sights and smells, but also absent of any sign of what you might call life. Kim was right, and no amount of resentment will change it; you have a lot of recovering to do.
For now, you make your slow way up the stairs to your bedroom and undress yourself. Your floorboards groan in protest under your movements, threatening to cave in. Thinking of the lieutenant, you carefully fold your worn clothes into a pile, preserving the tidy kingdom you’ve established.
We’ll see how long it lasts this time.
Your limbs feel heavy, and your shoulder is one dull, pulsating throb. You seat yourself on the edge of your bed. The smell of apricot is gone, but you still imagine it as your gaze lingers on the drawer of the nightstand. It’s as potent in your head as it ever was.
You still don’t know if Kim took the photograph.
The thought will niggle at you all night if you let it. Curiosity, or maybe your relentless masochism, compels you to find out for certain. As though you haven’t given yourself enough punishment tonight.
You fingers hook over the familiar handle and pull. Your heart thunders in anticipation, but when you slide the drawer open, the photograph is gone. There is only a single scrap of paper inside, roughly the size and shape of the notepad the lieutenant keeps in his pocket.
You pick it up and hold it toward the moonlight.
Don’t forget to water the plant.
Relief washes over you. Compared to the photograph, this message scrawled in Kim’s small, neat handwriting is a blessing. Not an anchor pulling you under, but a beacon guiding you to shore.
You fold it back into the drawer and slide it shut. Somehow, knowing that it’s there soothes your savage thoughts; it’s your own personal good luck charm, keeping the shadows at bay. You ease yourself under your covers, curling your body in the direction of the nightstand. Your shoulder and your hip twinge, but softer now, without your weight pinning them to the mattress.
Somewhere else in Jamrock, Lieutenant Kitsuragi goes through the motions of his own nighttime ritual, his thoughts lingering in the same places yours are lingering. Hope and fear co-exist in equal measure, spanning all the kilometers between his home and yours. Un jour je serai de retour près de toi.
Your final lucid thought is more of an inkling: maybe you can do this.
Sleep greets you like an old friend tonight.