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All In the Eyes

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Archibald Fleet didn’t smile.

That was certainly the impression one might get from him, and one that he tried to cultivate. But Clara realized that it wasn’t that he didn’t smile; it was more that you had to know what you were looking for in order to catch him at it. He held his feelings as close as a cardsharp held a winning hand. But everyone had a tell, and she flattered herself that she was getting pretty good at reading his.

What he didn’t do was grin. No beaming ear-to-ear to be found there. Which was fine, actually, she thought, because his face was made for subtler expression. She’d made a study of it, and kept her notes in the back section of his least-favorite of her many notebooks. Too bad for him, because that was the one she treasured. In it were her myriad observations of the person and mannerisms of the man who had become her business partner and very dear friend, and what she had gleaned thus far, simply by watching.

Fleet’s Smiles

  1. Pained. A frequent expression, and the most democratic, because just about everyone got to see that one. His mouth would curve tightly upward, and the bridge of his nose would scrunch ever so slightly. Sometimes his eyes would close. This was when he was waiting for whatever stupidity that was happening around him to stop. If he closed his eyes really hard, he was desperately trying to end the stupidity by sheer force of will. The Keller Variation was when he let his eyes go slightly glassy, staring off into the middle distance at nothing in particular. He’d done that to her a few times and she didn’t appreciate it.
  2. Partial. His go-to when he was genuinely pleased, which happened more often than people might think. One corner or other of his mouth would twitch upwards, usually when things were going well – an investigation coming together, the pieces finally clicking into recognizable order, or those times when he and Clara fell into what she thought of as duet mode, when they were finishing each other’s sentences, when they were following each other’s lead like dancers. Sometimes when that happened, he would look at her and smile, and she would smile back.
  3. The one that wasn’t really a smile at all. That one was all in his eyes. His lips might move a degree or two up from neutral, but what made it, what meant something, was the way he looked at her, like a spring rain washing away winter’s ice. There was such warmth in it, such fondness, that it could change his entire face, and it was all in his eyes. It was her favorite, because it wasn’t a smile, but it most definitely was one all the same.

 

He looked up from his book, noticed the open pages and pen in front of her, and sighed. “What?”

“Nothing.”

“Only you’re looking at me like you’re about to attack me with a tape measure and a set of calipers.”

“Am I?”

“Yes.”

“I’m not.”

“Good.”

“Only-”

“Ah.”

“I’m a journalist and an investigator, Fleet,” she said primly. “I can’t help it if I’m inclined to try and sort things out.”

“Right. Made any progress?”

“Towards sorting you out? Probably not. But it’s fun to try.”

He looked at her silently, profound neutrality in his expression…and there it was. That spark of amusement and affection, a message passed in code, just for her. Then he returned his gaze to his book. “Alright then.”

It was really good of him to indulge her the way he did, she reflected as she flipped to another page in her notebook. He liked to present himself as a man not built for friendship, but he really was very good at it.